Harvesting Wild Rice
Water Level for Harvest: Wild rice can handle torrential flooding in the spring, but it needs a stable—or gradually lowering—water level as harvest approaches. Flooding can destroy the harvest. A sudden drop in water level can cause the plants to collapse onto the water. ripening: In early August, the oat-type, loosely branched seed head is produced at the top of the stem. The kernel is first light green, then olive brown, and finally brown or black. When ripening, the formerly pale-green stalks turn yellow. Once the seed is ripe and hard, the slightest wind will shake off the ripe grains into the water, and the birds and other wildlife will eagerly feed on it. This is harvest time! On public wild rice stands, there may be complex and strictly enforced harvesting rules, usually a variation of the traditional Indian harvest system. Indian Harvest: The hard, ripe seed is harvested by boat, two people to a canoe, one to pole and one to harvest. The harvester holds a stick in each hand. With one stick, the grain heads are gently bent over the edge of the boat. With the other stick, they're tapped to make their ripe grain fall down into the bottom of the boat. Then those stalks are released, the poler moves the boat forward, and the harvester does it again with another clump of wild rice. Repeated Harvesting, Indian Style. Not all the seeds of a head of wild rice get ripe at once, so harvest gently, bending the long grass over the gunwale of your boat carefully so as not to break the stems, hitting the heads hard enough to make the ripe grains fall onto the collector pad in your boat but not so hard that you damage the unripe grains. Since the grain ripens over a week or two, you'll be back a few
more times before the harvest period is over, doing exactly the same thing: collecting the portion of the seeds that are ripe enough to easily fall from your experienced blow with the flail stick.
Sheaved Wild Rice. Here's another Indian harvest method. When the heads are green and won't lose grains from the handling, a lone boater ties a mass of heads together to form a sheaf. Then the sheaf is allowed to ripen naturally while being somewhat protected by its density from the birds and from shattering into the water. (A modern version of this is to tie a plastic bag over the sheaf head.) commercial: Commercial wild rice growers may harvest with more sophisticated equipment. The ideal machine gently shakes off the ripe grains and catches them without damaging any stems, so the grain can continue ripening. A1 Bruner, co-owner of the St. Maries Wild Rice Co., harvests from airboats powered by an airplane propeller and equipped with a front-end header that knocks the ripe kernels off their stalks into a scoop. Dense stands of wild rice can be profitably harvested by canoe, but where it grows sparsely over a wide area, mechanized harvesting is a great advantage. Or the best of the crop can be gathered by hand and then the machine sent through to make a last sweep of it. If a harvesting machine crushes the stalks after harvest by passing over them, it's going to be the last harvest visit for that year anyway
By mid-September all the seeds will have been harvested, been eaten by wildlife, or fallen into the water, afterward, the plant stalks die and fall into the water as well.
Continue reading here: Processing and Using Wild Rice
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