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Rice Paddy Update

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Growing rice in NYC? You bet we are! This year the Teaching Garden team tried growing three different varieties of upland rice in our new rice paddy.

Rice has been cultivated by people for much of human history, in many places around the world. Rice is a primary staple food for the largest number of people on Earth, it is eaten by nearly half of the world’s population.

We love to grow different grains and legumes to share with the students who visit our garden that not only fruits and vegetables come from the garden - much of what we eat, even cereal and pizza dough originate from plants!

Rice Paddy in August

History of Rice Cultivation

The origins of rice have been debated and the exact time and place of its first development is not known. However, it is likely to have begun in Asia. The domestication of rice is a very important historical development as rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than any other crop! Some important historical notes:

  • Rice farming is at least 10,000 years old: Pottery shards with imprints of Rice grains were discovered in the Korat area of Thailand. Plant remains from 10,000 BC were discovered on the Thailand/ Myanmar border.

  • Although Rice was originally cultivated in Asia, today it is cultivated on every continent on Earth!

  • Originally (in the Neolithic era) rice was grown in forest clearings, was direct seeded, and was grown without standing water – similar to how wild rice would grow. This type of rice cultivation is believed to happen in Asia and in Africa during similar time periods.

Cultivating Rice in the United States

  • Rice cultivation began in the US in colonial South Carolina and Georgia. Likely rice growing practices came with enslaved individuals who hailed from West Africa and Sierra Leone and had prior knowledge about rice cultivation.

  • Rice has been grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, and east Texas since the mid-19th century. Many farmers grew Rice in wet marshes where they could also farm crawfish when the fields were flooded.

  • Rice cultivation began in California during the gold rush when about 40,000 Chinese immigrants arrived and began to grow rice for their own consumption. However, commercial production of Rice in California only began in the early 1900’s.

  • Today more than 100 varieties of rice are commercially produced in the United States primarily in Arkansas, California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri.

To grow rice in NYC we started seeds inside under grow lights in April, transplanted them out into our paddies in June, and plan to harvest plants in early October so that the grains can dry and be threshed (removing the dried grains from the rest of the plant) at the end of October.

Grains are fun and easy to grow in any outdoor space, though harvests will be small unless you can grow many plants. Oats, rye, rice, and wheat are all beautiful low maintenance plants that make great teaching tools. Have you ever tried growing grains?

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