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Experimental farming

Lead Summary

HCP columnist

My brother and I were born and raised in the city, but curiously, we have both left that city life far behind. He and his wife now live on a 10-acre farm in the northeast. Lush green mountains surround them.

Their growing season is far shorter than ours, but they enjoy the country life as much as we do, and we both enjoy sharing what we learn.

This spring, my brother and his wife decided to experiment and see if they could build a rice paddy on the lower land where cattails already grew. So they built a system of shallow ponds and weirs and cast out a short-season rice seed. When all was done, they realized that they had quite a few rice seeds left over. They could have had lots of rice for dinner; but they decided, happily, to send the leftover seeds to us.

The package arrived just as we had finished setting all of our float-started plants in the garden, and rather than slit the float bed’s plastic liner so that the water would drain out, I scattered some compost soil across the bottom and then cast the rice seeds into the bed’s shallow water.

Nothing happened for about a week, other than several bullfrogs moving in.

Soon, I noticed pollywogs darting about. I would stop by daily and peer at the seeds through the murky water. It looked as though they were getting fatter and more swollen, but no signs of rice life, until finally, after almost two weeks, I saw white tendrils poking out of the end of each seed.

But it was not only the rice that was coming to life.

I had no doubt that the bullfrogs were working as hard as they could, trying to eat up all the mosquito larvae that had began to wiggle across the surface of the water, but there were lots of larvae still wiggling, and I imagined that the frogs could only eat so much.

In reality, we are very lucky down here at the creek. There are few, if any, mosquitoes. I do not know why, but I credit the lack of bothersome bugs to our healthy frog and bird populations.

On a summer evening, if I shine my flashlight through the trees around the edges of the fields, I can see thousands of pairs of small eyes glinting back at me. Hungry tree frogs are wonderful neighbors, indeed.

As excited as I was to experiment with a float bed rice paddy, I did not want to raise mosquitoes. I called my brother, and he shared his solution. Greg and I immediately headed out to the not-so-local pet supply store and purchased a clear plastic bag filled with 15 goldfish.

It was after dark by the time we returned to the farm. We set the bag, still closed, in the float bed so the water temperature of the bag could equalize to that of the bed.

In the flashlight beam, I could see the goldfish swimming anxiously inside their bubble of clear water, but we did not want to shock them with a sudden temperature change, nor did we want them to suffocate if we left them overnight in their small bag, so we stayed up later than usual until the temperatures in the bag and in the float bed felt the same.

Then I slit open the bag and let the fish swim out. We could see their gold glinting in the flashlight’s glare as they dove deeper into the bed’s water.

The next morning, I could hardly wait to go down the hill and see how the fish were doing. I found them, all swimming fat and fine, no belly-up floaters. I had imagined that the raccoon family, that lives down by the big compost pile, would have stopped by for some golden, late-night fine dining, but not so, or at least not yet.

And as I peered into the water I could see that the rice had actually rooted! Slender grass-like shoots were reaching up to the surface of the water.

I smiled; and as I smiled, I saw a goldfish dart up to the surface and swallow a mosquito larvae.

My smile turned into a grin.

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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