Understanding how much time and labour goes into getting a bowl of rice to the table may help us better appreciate this humble grain, and the people who work to bring it from field to bowl.
It takes seedlings in moist beds 30 to 50 days to grow big enough to transplant.
2. Preparing the Soil
As seedlings near transplant age the field is prepared for planting. This field in southern China is ploughed with the aid of a steer (some use water buffalo). The fields are then cleared of any weeds, fertilized (often with dung) and leveled by dragging a log across the loosened earth.
3. Planting the seedings
At the right stage of growth with a few healthy leaves and good root system, farmers then have the backbreaking task of implanting the seedlings one by one (approximately 20-30 cm apart) into the field, which has now been flooded with rain or river water. It is important they are planted at the right depth since air is just as important for growth as water.
4. Crop Maintenance
It would be nice if farmers could take a bit of a break but during the growing season the field is emptied of water, weeded and then flooded again … a number of times. When they are not fighting weeds, farmers are chasing off birds (including wild ducks and geese), picking off snails by hand and doing what they can to ward off rice stem borers, army worms and rodents. When the rice is ready for harvest the husk is firm but the rice kernel has a ‘milky’ interior.
Between 80 to 200 days after transplanting, when the rice is finally ready to harvest, the farmer cuts the stalks close to the ground with a hand scythe which has tiny saw blade teeth.
These farmers in the field cut the stalks and thresh (separating the grain from the plant) immediately using a foot pumped treadle to spin rotating metal hooks which knock the grain heads from the stalks and sends them into a second section where plant debris is removed and the rice scooped out into breathable bags.
7. Nothing Wasted
After the grain is threshed, the stalks are tied together in stooks and left in the field to dry, later to be used for animal feed. Once the stooks are removed from the field and the temperature allows, the fields are ready to fertilize and plant again.
Still there is little time for rest. The bagged rice is taken from the field and each day spread on bamboo mats or along the sides of paved streets, or yards, or sometimes roof tops to dry. Through the day the rice is stirred by rake or broom. Every evening it is gathered up to protect it from weather and dew and then spread again the next morning.
After drying, winnowing will separate the grain from the husk. There are many methods to winnow. The rice is often tossed in the air where a natural wind accomplishes the separation. Where wind is not always dependable winnowing can be done by using a hand cranked fan. Grains are dropped into a funnel which opens to a wind channel where the husk/chaff is blown off allowing just the grains to fall to the bottom.
10. Ready To Use
The rice must now be kept dry until used.
At last the grains are is ready to cook into the bowl of rice we seem to take too often for granted. Many of the world’s farmers don’t take it for granted however, because without a good crop of rice their families may well go hungry.
As a guest in the home of a Chinese family, it is considered rude to leave even a single grain of rice in your bowl; now we have a better understanding as to why.