This year's wild rice harvest

Wild rice trays at AWS office
Trays of wild rice growing in the AWS office

It's been quite a winter (and now, basically, spring!) for these wild rice seeds, which have come a long way from when we harvested them last fall. Looking at what we've done to store and propagate them, it's really interesting to compare it to the normal cycle of life for a wild rice plant in our watershed.

Let's start with the seed. The wild rice around our watershed usually are ready to harvest around September, all the way through October. Around that time, as the fall weather gets colder and turns to winter, the wild rice seeds that remain are either eaten by the birds or lie dormant in pockets of mud.

The months of September and October were busy with seed harvesting for a variety of different programs and projects we've got going here at AWS. During this time, we collected tens of thousands of wild rice seeds. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It was! It filled several big buckets, bags, and jugs. As the harvest season went on, we had too much wild rice to store in our fridge.


The pond at AWS has held wetland seeds for several winters now.

So we used our natural (wet) refrigerator right outside our office. The pond at our office is several feet deep, enough to sink the bags of wetland plant seeds we had amassed over the months. This mimics the natural habitat that the seeds would be lying dormant in-- lying several inches deep in muddy water, below the frozen surface.

However, we've had quite a time this winter with climate change. We had a frozen pond for about a solid month, and then it thawed and refroze several times before February had even come! This, we thought, must not bode well for our seeds-- if they had started germinating, as though spring had arrived, only to be frozen again, we would certainly lose our harvest, and be forced to buy non-localized seeds.


The white shoots sprouting out of the seed indicate the plant is germinating

After fishing them out of the pond in unusually warm (but still cold) late-January, we saw that the seeds had already begun germinating. Fortunately, we made a quick maneuver that might've saved the seeds from spoiling: we brought them in again, back to the fridge, after making space from other seeds being stored there.

Now, the education team is almost completely underway with their Rice Rangers program, and we are happy to see that the wild rice, as well as other plants, are germinating, sprouting, and have survived the wacky winter with "flying colors." And now that it's March, and we saw the Worm Moon last night (more on the Native American moons to come!), the climate and seasons have somewhat returned to routine, and the plants out in the watershed are likely doing the same thing as the ones in our office.


This is what a Rice Rangers plot looks like upon completion--arrow arum and wild rice growing together!

Stay tuned for more news from the education team on the Rice Rangers program and all of the native wetland plants they're planting throughout the spring. If you're interested in planting some wild rice in your own backyard--be it a pond, or a park, or even a farm!--please, engage us on our blog and we can offer guidance or further resources.

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