RICE FARMING Rice culture in the United States is usually carried on in the most up-to-date manner, with improved, labor-saving machinery. The fields must be level, the soil a clay loam, with stiff clay under it to hold the water, and later to support the heavy harvester. Reclaimed swamps and the flats subject to floods along river courses were the first rice lands of the South. The fields must be surrounded by levees, or dykes, to regulate the water supply. After the grain is drilled in and has sprouted, the water is let in by raising the gates, and kept rising as the stems lengthen. The grass and weeds are mostly drowned out, but the water is drained off to allow the plants to get one good hoeing. After this, the water is admitted again, and it keeps rising until flowering time. The rice plant heads like oats, in a branching cluster of single flowers. The one grain in a spike let, is enclosed in two tight glumes, one carry ing the long awn, if it is a bearded variety. Ex amine any bag of rice, and you can find a grain still in the glumes, that we call the "hull." The water supply is often many feet lower than the rice field. Pumps are used to bring it up, or it may be elevated by the principle of the siphon, a method that saves power generated by engines. Deep wells supply water to the irrigating ditches in some rice-growing sections of the Southwest. This allows tracts far removed from river courses to come under this form of agriculture.
Before the field turns yellow, the land is drained, and the reapers and binders cut and bind the grain, which is shocked, then stacked for later threshing. The use of machinery greatly reduces the need of hand labor, which is far more ex pensive in this country than in the Tropics and the Far East.
The methods of growing rice have changed little since the beginning of its cultivation in China and India. The plow is most primitive, often little more than a crooked pole, with its nose in the mud, dragged along by a stupid water buffalo.
The preparation of the field is often only the stirring up of the mud at the bottom of a shallow swamp, obstructed by tree roots and rubbish.
The seed bed is a level patch, better prepared. The seed is sown broadcast, often sprouted before hand. When the shoots are three inches high the bed is flooded daily to saturate the ground, then the water is allowed to drain off. When the plants reach six inches in height they are transplanted into the mud of the field, thirty times the size of the seed bed. The work is done very rapidly, oftenest by women, the plants being set at a distance of six inches apart in rows about eight inches apart.
The plants are kept under water until they are about fifteen inches high. Then they are drained and weeded, or hoed. The water is then let in again, and remains until the harvest is almost due. The heads droop with the weight of the kernels, and if they ripen before being gathered, much grain is lost.
The harvester goes to his work with a reaping hook in his hand, lays the handfuls on the stubble to dry. Later the grain is threshed by the slow and wasteful method of treading it out by driving oxen over the straw, spread on a smooth piece of ground, or on a barn floor. Men tread it out often. Much is lost and damaged by this clumsy method.
Sometimes handfuls of straw are whipped over a sharp stone, or drawn through narrow slits, to comb off the kernels. This is slow, but it saves the rice in good condition. In its snug yellow husks the grain is called "paddy." It is ready for the milling process, or to be stored for months, or shipped to near or distant markets.
There are various simple methods of pounding the paddy to get the hull off of the white grain. Stone mortars and pestles are used in different countries, and a vast amount of muscular energy expended in pounding large or small quantities, until all the hulls are off. The Chinese family has a daily job of pounding just enough paddy for the day's use. Children often do this work, using mallets of wood.