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Concessions of a rice farmer

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HCP columnist

The plan was a simple one. After the float bed was done floating the seed trays, add a layer of dirt to the water, cast rice seeds, add goldfish to eat the mosquito larvae, and sit back and watch the rice grow.

Well, the rice did grow, and the goldfish did eat the mosquito larvae. I even sat back for a while, though I did periodically stop by the bed and watch as the rice sprouted, and the fish grew fatter.

At first, there were just a few small rice plants growing in the bed, then I noticed a few more, and then, within a few weeks, there were hundreds of little rice plants. I noticed that even though some of the small rice starts were properly growing from the bed’s dirt bottom, others lay floating on the surface of the water. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to plant these floaters into the dirt bottom, only to return the following day and find even more of them floating.

Then something odd began to happen. I was pleased to see that there were fewer and fewer floaters as the days passed.

Perhaps my underwater re-plantings were taking hold, but then it dawned on me that not only were there fewer floaters, there were also far fewer of the young rice plants growing from the bed’s watery bottom.

One evening, over dinner on the side deck, Greg asked how the rice paddy was growing, and I told him that I was quite puzzled. The rice seemed to be disappearing. He smiled, and then asked, with a knowing look in his eye, how often I fed the goldfish.

Just as I started to answer, the words stalled on my tongue. With sudden clarity, I realized that my fattened goldfish had happily eaten up all the mosquito larvae, and had then, just as happily, begun to dine on my young rice plants.

The fish food I had purchased had been sitting quite uneaten in the barn. I suppose that I had been waiting for the goldfish to look slender and hungry.

As our dinner dishes were drying in the rack, I walked down the hill and again sat by the side of the float bed. The creek valley was already in shadow, shaded from the setting sun by the hill behind the cabin.

Not a single mosquito flew through the still evening air, and the surface of the rice paddy water was as still as the air.

I touched the smooth surface and watched as faint ripples spread across the bed. As my eye followed the ripples, I noticed my fattened goldfish swimming lazily about the bottom of the bed, and as I watched, one paused by an imbedded rice plant to nibble at its base.

A small cloud of loosened dirt began to swirl around the fish and the plant, and then, with a bit more nibbling, the little plant broke free of its mooring. It slowly floated to the surface of the water, with the fish following, still nibbling on the tender white roots. Another fish swam over and joined the first, and as I watched, several other fish came to eat.

So I have to concede that my first adventure into rice farming did not quite work out, but I am not quite ready to say that it cannot be done. Perhaps if I had fed the fish on a daily basis they would have still eaten the mosquito larvae, but left the rice starts alone.

Perhaps if I had laid a deeper layer of soil in the bottom of the bed, the young rice starts would have had a stronger foundation, and the fish would not have been able to pull them loose, or perhaps rice farming really is not possible in our neck of the woods.

So for now, I will simply say that the jury is still out.

I am already planning how to undertake this adventure again, next spring. It seems that there is always another way to try, and ever so much more to learn.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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