Growing Rice in the UK?

In 2014 I’m goint to try growing rice in the UK, and the following post describes why, and how I’m going to do it. I’m sure that it has been tried by somebody, somewhere, but I have no idea if anybody has made it work yet. It’s not something that I’ve ever come across before, and my only thoughts up until recently has been the possibility of growing wild rice. That changed when I readĀ The Resilient Farm and Homestead, by Ben Falk, who is one of a number of people growing rice in Vermont, USA. Using rice from Hokkaido, the northernmost Island in Japan, growers in vermont are harvesting marketable quantities of rice. I immediately decided that I wanted to give I a try. So another project has been germinated, or hatched.

Rice Related Research

I have done a bit less research than I would normally, as I had already decided to give growing rice a try. The variety that seems to be working in Vermont is ‘Hayayuki’, and so my first task was to try and get hold of some. That has so far failed miserably. Nobody that I contacted in Vermont bothered to reply. An acquantance in Japan replied once, and then nothing. A relatively well known Permaculturalist in Japan didn’t reply.

Growing Rice in the UK: Climate

The obvious reason for not growing rice in the UK is our climate, but my reading reduced that down to two specific limiting factors.

  1. The relatively short frost free growing season.
  2. Sterility due to low temperatures at flowering.

There are likely to be other factors to consider, but I’ll deal with those as they become apparent.

Growing Rice in the UK: Frost

In Vermont, Ben Falk has a frost free growing season that is too short for rice, and therefore their crop is started off under cover, and planted out. Here in the UK, and here on the East coast in particular, we can have frost as late as Early June, and as early as late September. I will have to use the same method of starting seedlings off in a frost free enviroment, prior to planting out. I do not know what the minimum temperatures that the seedlings will tolerate, and that’s something that I need to look at when things settle down in the New Year.

Growing Rice in the UK: Low Flowering Temperatures

One of my research strands identified that if temperatures are low at flowering, this will lead to sterility. I’ve lost the original link, but I think that the critical temperature was about 18 Centigrade. For growers with a more continental climate, that’s not likely to be such a problem, but with our maritime climate, cool damp periods in summer are a possibility. Whilst this would lead to little or no rice, I was not deterred.

My Cunning plan for Growing Rice in the UK

Having thought about the two climate related problems I came up with a number of potential solutions. Ben Falk starts his seedlings growing in a greenhouse/polytunnel, and that seems the most obvious thing to do here too. he started with a very small quantity of seed, and to bulk up the seed he describes growing the rice seedlings in 5 gallon buckets. His book mentions that each bucket produces enough seed to grow 50 lbs of rice. I misread that initially, thinking that each bucket was producing 50 lbs of rice. That wasn’t the case. The seed from each bucket, planted the following year, would produce a crop of 50 lbs. Whilst I want to grow my rice outside, this gives me an option to grow some undercover. It also would alllow me to grow some outside, but have the ability to move some undercover at flowering, should the temperatures fall.

I already have tentative plans for a pond on the south side of what will eventually be a large greenhouse (for extra reflected light and water storage). Although rice doesn’t need to be immersed in water, having an area where my ducks can build fertility all winter, and then grow rice in the summer, is very appealing. With a second pond for summer use, I can continue to provide water for my ducks, and gather mud and nutrients for my polytunnel. In Autumn after rice harvest (ever the optimist), I can top off all of my compost heaps with mud from the larger pond, and use it for ducks again.

Looking at the benefits, I’m not too worried if I canot get a rice crop every year, and am aware that I may never do so, but even f there is no grain, it’s a great way of getting additional straw for my poultry, and for composting.

Obtaining a Suitable Rice Variety

As so often seems to happen in my life, once I have decided on a course of action, solutions present themselves fortuitously. In this case it was a conversation with Chris Evans, the permaculturalist, not the TV and radio personality. Chris founded and helps to run the Himalayan Permaculture Center. (Please follow the link and see what great work they are doing). Chris was due to visit Nepal in the Autumn, and kindly offered to bring me back some seed, including some of the rice grown high up in the Himalayas. That promise materialised this week with a small package sent in the post, containing rice, two different types of Millet, and an Amaranth. The rice is a variety called ‘Chomrong’, and comes from a permaculture project 2,200 meters high in the Himalayas. That astounded me. That’s almost a mile and a half up in the air. I did a quick internet search to look it up and found that it was one of two varieties noted for tolerating cooler temperatures at flowering. It was said to have experienced 30% sterility at temperatures of 15 Centigrade. Now I’m always pretty optimistic, so I don’t see a 30% loss at 15 C, I see a 70% harvest, which is fine. What is also positive is that if we regularly get these lower temperatures, and still get some seed to use, and sow again, the seed will hopefully select for the ability to flower in these temperatures, potentially developing a higher percentage of cold tolerant plants (flowering).

Further Thoughts

One of the points made in The Resilient Farm and Homestead is that the rice was not eaten by birds initially, but after a few years they learnt that it was a food source. I had already considered using nets, on a temporary frame to protect the seed, and the same frame might be useable to cover the plants with clear plastic at flowering, should lower temperatures be forecast. It would not anything too subsatntial, and the plastic is relatively cheap. Initially I’m going to try without it, and only do so if I cannot obtain a yield.

Final Comment

There may be some really good reasons why we are not already growing rice in the UK, but I won’t really be happy unless I give it a try. Luckily, thanks to Chris, I have enough seed to give it a good try for a few years. Watch this space for the results.

 

39 thoughts on “Growing Rice in the UK?

  1. Anni Kelsey

    Hi Deano

    One of the things I really like about your attitude is that you are so willing to give new things a go, and also that you are very hot on research and thinking things through. I think that we need to try all sorts of things, whether we expect them to work or not. I think that often things are passed down as being either possible or not possible and nobody ever checks out if this is actually the case.
    I have read a bit about rice in the past and like you had discounted it – in part as I don’t have much room, but also because it looked less likely to succeed than other things I can try first. I look forward to seeing how this goes for you and may be begging some seed from you in a couple of year’s time.
    Best wishes
    Anni

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Thanks Anni
      Hope that all is well at your end.
      I have the space, and the freedom, to fail at stuff, although time is getting a bit short, and I could probably do with some help/vounteers to help keep stuff on track.
      There are some other issues with growing rice in the UK like the amount of sun hours, temperatures at critical stages, and potentially increased disease through the less than ideal conditions. That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason not to give it a try. In many ways the knowledge gained is a yield, and at least I’m likely to get some mulch or composting materials out of it. Besides, how cool would it be to be able to say that I grew my own rice, here in the UK. Even if there was only one full crop every few years, it would still be a bonus.
      All of the best
      Deano

      Reply
  2. Jan

    As you know, I’m always fascinated by this sort of research. It will be interesting to see what sort of yields you are able to achieve and whether there is any future for breeding a variety better suited to the UK climate. I look forward to reading about your results.

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Me too Jan
      Perhaps simply selecting the earliest ripening grain (ever the optimist), and the natural selection of obtaining a yield even in cool summer temperatures, will move the population towards a more UK friendly base.

      Reply
  3. matis

    Hello,

    Could we exchange some seeds? I’ve got duborskian rice, which is a Russian rice.
    I live in the Netherlands.

    Greets Matis

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi matis
      I have enough seed to let you have some. Can you tell me a bit more about your rice? Have you grown it in the Netherlands?
      Deano

      Reply
      1. Matis

        I haven’t grown it yet. It is a short grain rice. I don’t have enough yet to exchange but I will probably have next year (except if it doesn’t work out in my climate).
        It is a dry land rice.

        Reply
  4. guy

    Hi Deano. Sorry this isn’t rice-related but i couldn’t find an email for you. I read your review of Solomon’s The Intelligent Gardener in Permaculture.co.uk and i wanted to know if you’ve found a soil lab in the UK which offers the M3 or Mehlich test which the author has written the book around? Many thanks if you can help. Guy

    Reply
  5. Dan_Glos

    Hi Deano,
    Thank you for this article, saw it just after watching a BBC 1 programme Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen with the famous farmer Nigel Slater & Chef Adam Henson & they failed to grow rice in a poly-tunnel due to fungal damage but that may be because Nigel placed a black sacks with straw to grow pink mushroom. From their failure, it may be learnt that the rice stems/shoots may be prone to airborne spores (if you leave the plastic off your tunnels) or was damaged from used straw (from particulates in cow, horse, sheep dung). On tv show ‘How It’s Made,’ they said (clear) plastic sheets for cellophane wraps was made by using sulfuric acid(used in gas USA gas chambers to kill criminal inmates) & ammonia, this may impact negatively on your rice. It should also be noted that in the East, rice is grown 3-4 times within one season and cow dung is often used and the depth of the soil in your buckets(to grow rice) may be important. Why not try different soil depths and soils (cow, horse, sheep, pig, chicken manure) in your buckets to find out which produce the best. I really want/hope you succeed! Dan-Glos

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Dan
      I missed the first ten minutes of the show, but later on I’m sure that they said that they were growing basmati rice. Lots of reasons to choose a much better variety. My two concerns are low temperatures at flowering, and not enough direct sunlight. Sadly neither are predictable in our climate.
      Whatever happens it will give me something to keep my brain engaged.
      All of the best
      DEano

      Reply
  6. Gina

    Love that you’re trying new things and sharing relults for the rest of us. Am gonna give soy beans a try after your article. Would love to know how you get on with the millet if you try it. Gluten free grains v. expensive for coeliacs so if could grow my own would be fantastic. Any harvesting tips gratefully received too. Am in Dordogne, France so hot summers and very cold winters.
    Many thanks

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Thanks Gina
      There are qsome good books on grain growing that explain how to harvest different grains. Try Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer, or Small scale Grain Raising by gene logsdon.
      All of the best
      Deano

      Reply
  7. Paul Kile

    I’ve been growing rice in Rhode Island, USA for the past 5 years. I have grown at least 15 varieties of cold tolerant rice from numerous countries. The Duborskian is from Ukraine, matures early and gives a good crop, i. It lodges easily because it gets so tall. My other best varieties were Akitakomachi from Japan and a variety from a Peruvian village in the mountains at 11,300 feet. Had a cool summer and poor results this year but I’ve been growing it in a food forest under canopy that limits its’ sun exposure so that played a major role.
    See if you can contact the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines or the National small Grains Collection in the USA. The latter is where I got a lot of my seed to get started.
    Paul

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Paul
      That’s really useful.
      Not sure if the USA site will ship abroad, but I may be travelling to the Philippines in 2014.
      If you fancy doing a swap of some of your grains for the Nepalese variety that I have, I’d be happy to do so.
      Deano

      Reply
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  9. Charmian Larke

    Hi Deano
    For more research you could try talking to the Eden Project in Cornwall. I have seen them growing rice there in the tropical biome. I know that would be in higher temperatures but they may have some experience they could pass on.
    Good luck

    Charmian

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Josiah
      The nets would be to prevent birds eating the rice at harvest, so the seedballs wouldn’t work for that.
      Thanks for the link though
      Deano

      Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Chris
      I saw the link when I was looking for seed, but it’s a few years old now.
      As I now have some rice to try, I’m happy.
      Thanks for the link though
      Deano

      Reply
  10. Paul ancill

    Japan is on a similar latitude to UK and a Martine climate would their rice not be suitable ?

    Regards

    Paul Ancill

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Paul
      The City of Sapporo in the Northernmost large island (Hokkaido) is listed as 43 degrees North.
      Lincoln, which is the closest city to me, is listed as 53 degrees North, so it’s a full 10 degrees of Latitude South of me. Varieties from Hokkaido have been used in Vermont, but I’ve not been able to get hold of any. I did try.
      To give you an idea of the comparative latitudes, look up Mary’s Harbour in Newfoundland, Canada. It is 1 degree further South than I am.

      Reply
  11. Yousaf Muhammad

    Sir,

    I can give you full information about growing of rice because our family has vast experience in growing of rice in Pakistan. I am a Pakistan but now settled in Italy. If you need any information, please let me know, i will be happy to give you my best level information.

    Yousaf
    Milan, Italy

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Thanks for your offer Yousaf
      So far it’s fine, but not flowering. Daylength is too long
      Deano

      Reply
  12. AK

    So how did it perform? Would be good to see another staple crop able to grow here just in case we ever need it. But for the forseable future I can’t see it being economical except on a niche scale when they can produce multiple harvests in a single year in Asia, have cheaper labour and better conditions and so can undercut the price of any grown here.

    Reply
  13. James Ballinger

    Hi. I have managed to sprout a sushi rice species of rice here in the uk. On talking with rice growers in Korea I believe this will produce flowers towards the end of September. I will forward you pictures as I go.

    Reply
  14. David Faulkner

    Hi Deano

    Great post and I had exactly the same thought this week. Why can’t we grow rice in the UK?

    I’m really interested in how you progress and I am thinking of doing exactly the same thing myself.

    Looking forward to hearing your progress
    David

    Reply
  15. Clive

    Hi Deano,

    My company, Remineralise Ltd is the distributor of a product called AZOMITEĀ® which has been used with success growing rice around the world though has not been used for growing rice in the UK so far.
    Take a look at the website:
    http://www.remineralise.com/

    If you have any questions you can contact me via the website.

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Clive
      I looked at Azomite but couldn’t find a supplier in the UK. I’d be happy to trial it for you. I’m currently doing a degree in Plant Science as a mature student to be followed by a PhD and might be able to do some UK based research for you if you fancied getting some product to me.

      Reply

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