How to Grow Wild Rice

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When Americans refer to wild rice, they usually mean a grain which is actually a water oat, rather than a variety of rice. This wild rice grows naturally in the shallow water of lakes or rivers in the northern U.S. and Canada. All that’s required is a steady supply of clean moving water and temperatures above 70 degrees for at least 40 days. Learn how to grow and harvest your own crop of wild rice.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean moving water along the banks of a river or lake
  • Wild rice seed
  • Canoe and harvesting paddle
  • Parching oven (optional)
  • Threshing machine (optional)
  • Identify and prepare the planting area. Wild rice grows best in conditions where moving water is present in the spring and water depths are about 6 to 12 inches in the summer. The best soil condition is soft sediment. These conditions exist along river banks or near the inlets of lakes. The water must be clean and not cloudy or filled with waste run-off or algae. You may need to remove competing plants such as cattails. Bottomland or marshland that can be flooded is also perfect for growing wild rice.

  • Seed the chosen area. You will need to obtain live wild rice seed from a seed supplier or another local grower. Seeds should be soaked in water before “planting.” The planting process simply involves dropping the seed into water, either scattered from a boat or thrown from the shore. Seeds can be planted, in the fall where they will lie dormant until spring when they germinate. . If you are storing seed over the winter, place the seeds in mud in a wooden box and submerge the box in clean flowing water. Otherwise, the seeds will lose their ability to germinate. You will need approximately 20 pounds of wet seed per acre.

  • Watch the wild rice grow. Stalks should begin to appear in mid-June. Watch for light green kernels to appear at the top of stalks in early August. These kernels will gradually turn dark brown or even black and the stalks will yellow. This signifies maturity and time for harvesting.

  • Protect the ripening grains from predators. Birds and other wildlife will begin to eat the wild rice seeds as ripening occurs. One way to prevent this is the sheafing method, where a group of stalks are tied to together while still green, which offers protection to the developing kernels. A plastic bag can also be placed over the sheaf as it ripens.

  • Harvest the wild rice with two people in a canoe. One steers with a pole while the other gently gathers clumps of stalks and bends them over the boat edge while using a paddle stick to tap the ripe seeds into a container. This may need to be repeated several times over a 2- to 3-week period.

  • After harvesting, the rice must be cured. This can be accomplished by spreading the grains on a flat rock or concrete under a hot sun and stirring at least once per day for several days. The grains must be removed to shelter if there is risk of dew or rain.

  • The next step is parching to remove the hull of the grain. Hang the wild rice grains in a container or on scaffolding over a slow burning outdoor fire for about 36 hours or until the grain swells and the hulls split open. Parching ovens can also be bought.

  • The final step in the process of preparing wild rice for consumption is hulling or threshing. This can be accomplished by hand--or rather foot--by jumping on the grains in a shallow hole until the husks separate from the kernels. Commercial hulling machines are also available, which beat the grain with rubber hoses.

Tips & Warnings

  • For best results, don’t harvest the first year’s crop and allow all seed to be reintroduced to the water-covered soil for a strong second growing season.
  • During each harvesting, allow some seed to fall into the water to ensure a crop the following year.
  • Wild rice packaged for food consumption cannot be used for seed, because the processing methods used prohibit sprouting.
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