2018-08-20 / Front Page

Rice plants flourishing because of saturated summer

Staff Writer

Jim Tuten of Huntingdon examined his flourishing rice crop on his plot in Porter Township, which represents varieties of the grain from around the world. 
Photo by APRIL FEAGLEY Jim Tuten of Huntingdon examined his flourishing rice crop on his plot in Porter Township, which represents varieties of the grain from around the world. Photo by APRIL FEAGLEY As many crops have suffered under the pervasive precipitation this summer, one novel planting is flourishing on a plot in Porter Township.

Standing water, thick mud and humidity has Jim Tuten’s rice crop looking very promising for a generous yield this season.

And yes, rice can be grown in Pennsylvania.

“I have an Italian variety called ‘lotto,’ that you can use to make risotto, I have a Japanese variety, a Russian variety, Duborskian, and one the seed company lists as ‘M101.’ It’s hard to say where that comes from,” Tuten said. “That illustrates that rice has been developed to grow in so many different places.”

Rice has been successfully grown as a commercial crop within the United States for hundreds of years, although wild rice — which is native to North America — is not classified as the same grain.

“Wild rice is not actually rice. It resembles rice, but species wise, it is not,” he said.

Rice has been a long-standing interest for Tuten, who, along with being an avid gardener, is a professor of history at Juniata College and the author of “Lowcountry Time and Tide: The Fall of the South Carolina Rice Kingdom.”

“Since the 1690s, rice has been commercially grown in South Carolina. That was the first commercial rice in what would become the United States. It was grown north to the Cape Fear River and down to north Florida on the coast. The last commercial rice was grown there probably in about 1930,” said Tuten. “But people were growing rice for their own consumption in gardens continuously. I don’t think people knew that.”

Commercial irrigation and large-scale mechanical harvesting negatively impacted the rice industry on the eastern seaboard, which depended on natural forces to keep the fields sufficiently saturated. In the west, artificial irrigation practices allowed growers to dry the field at will to allow for equipment to gain entry to harvest the crop.

“My garden is, in some ways, an ode to the food ways of the South Carolina low country,” he said. “I have okra and a bunch of varieties of cow peas. Rice is one of the other big things.”

Tuten’s garden is located on property he purchased specifically for the purpose of growing produce several years ago and is affectionately known as “Swamptopia.”

“This is the fourth garden I’ve had here and I’ve grown rice every year,” he said. “I’ve tried different varieties. The Russian variety was the first, along with a very famous variety from South Carolina. The frost came before the South Carolina variety’s rice had set, but the Russian variety did very well.”

Weeding the rice can be a challenge as it is very similar in appearance to grasses which grow up between the plants. Within this year’s garden, Tuten has begun an experiment utilizing landscaping plastic to see if it helps with weed control for the rice.

“I planted some on the plastic and some off of the plastic,” he said. “It’s a sort of citizen-science project, where they were giving the seeds away to people to grow them to see how they grew in different settings — in the different micro climates. Of course, this year is going to be peculiar because we’ve had so much epic rain. It has been in standing water for a month.”

The rice is always planted in the lowest, wettest section of the garden.

“Rice doesn’t thrive in drought. It definitely likes water,” said Tuten. “But it doesn’t have to be in the paddy-style of growing rice. Some varieties have been developed to grow that way, but rice is also grown in the foothills of the Himalayas.”

The rice is typically harvested in September and Tuten looks forward to a good yield this year.

“I always feel like it makes sense to grow things my family likes to eat, but I also like to grow things that intrigue me,” he said. “For whatever reason, there are a few more seeds being offered for garden type growers, so I experimented even more this year.”

April can be reached at afeagley@huntingdondailynews.com.

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