Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rice Paddy in a Bucket

Rice is a key component of our Artifacts of Ancient China study. We memorized the approximate beginning of its usage in settled agricultural communities (around 5000 BCE), and then the kids planted a miniature rice paddy in a bucket!

We're going to have to do this project again in the spring or summer to get the full effect, or I'm going to have to buy a grow light, because cool autumn days in the window of our front hallway was not the ideal growing condition for rice; nevertheless, we were able to carry the project along far enough to get a good idea of how growing rice works. Here's what we did:

1. Get a bucket. Buckets make excellent tools and playthings for children, and I pick them up wherever I find them in a good condition at a good price. The one that we used is a small-ish one from Lowe's.

2. Fill it halfway with dirt. We used potting soil for container plants in our rice paddy, and that was a mistake, as it was too light, and it wouldn't sink right when we added the water. It worked, so use it in a pinch, but next time I'm going to buy straight soil or composted manure or something similar instead of "potting soil."

3. Buy rice. We went to our local natural foods co-op and bought simple, organic brown rice from the bulk bin. This would be a fun time to expand the project, perhaps even for a science fair, as the kids discovered several varieties of rice in those bulk bins, and got pretty excited about the possibilities! I wasn't sure if this project would work at all, so I dissuaded them from experimenting, unfortunately, but in the spring/summer (or in science fair season!), I'll encourage them to choose as many varieties as they like, and we'll simply prepare a separate and labeled rice paddy for each.

4. Fill the bucket with water. Ideally, you want the water to be just a couple of inches over the level of the soil, but this didn't really work out with our potting soil, since about half of it floated! Weird. Again, the project still worked, but that soil choice at the beginning is very important.

5. Generously sprinkle in the rice. The bulk bin rice will sprout, but not very prolifically, so sow heavily.

6. Set the rice paddy in a warm spot. Keep an eye on it, and keep the water level high.

7. Observe! It was VERY exciting when the rice grains began to sprout, and even more so when they began to grow in earnest:

How fun is that? It's a real rice paddy! Of course, you can see in the photos that the potting soil is floating, and the rice is growing on top of that, so it never really gets under the water as it's supposed to. For this reason, we also had a mold problem on the surface, but since I knew from the beginning that we probably weren't going to be able to grow full rice plants for food in this chilly hallway, I just ignored it.

When the plants were several inches high, the rice paddy got smelly and stagnant, and so we knew it was time for the project to come to an end. Will didn't want to just dump it out, as I'd suggested, but she did carry it outside to die a natural death during our next hard freeze. 

She also did consent to pull a couple of rice sprouts so that we could look at them:
She's wearing safety goggles because she's on a break from smashing glass bottles with a hammer.
 Even though the project didn't work perfectly, it was a great one for cementing the timeline date, getting a visual of what a rice paddy looks like (in miniature), reviewing botany, and inspiring the kids towards further exploration.

Also, Will now knows that a stagnant rice paddy smells like "farts," so there's that, as well.

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