Midwest Permaculture

Leaving the planet in better condition than we found it.

In June 2008 my son and I rebuilt a pond here in South Milwaukee, WI enlarging it to a two tier system. The lower pond is 3 feet deep at its maximum and 8 feet by 10 in surface area. The upper is about the same area but a depth of only 10 inches. 2 pumps are being used . The lower pond has a recirculating pump to aerate it and the upper has a water supply pumped up to it from the lower pond which then spills over at an overflow point 30 inches down to the lower pond. The lower pond has goldfish which provide nitrogen wastes to support the plants. Plants include Saggitaria or arrowhead, pickerel, waterlily,marsh marigold, and wild calla. Also cattails. All of these are edible or medicinal.
The upper pond was planted last April to watercress and wild rice. Both the rice and watercress are quite vigorous growers. Fortunately they do well together as the rice grows to 4 or more feet and the cress only to a foot or less. As far as root zones go they seem to coexist okay together.
Some of the rice was sown in pots and submerged in the water while the balance was simply cast into the water. Wild rice seems to grow equally well either way but has a more stable root system when pots are not used since the roots can then spread further.
Watercress can be invasive so it does need to be harvested regularly once its established. The cress was bought at a local food co-op and just cast into the pond where it rooted at every leaf node. By 2 months later the rice and cress had filled the upper pond. Any cress or rice that went over the fall to the fishpond was consumed by the fish. So the experiment was contained to the upper pond only which I had not expected but did hope for.
When the rice had gotten to the point where I thought that it was smothering the cress I thinned the rice drastically by 50%. The cress then took off and by September the raccoons could walk on water.
Rice harvest began in early September and continued for 3 and a half weeks.
Harvesting was done with a piece of inch thick oak trim about 36 inches long and reed basket. Tapping the seed heads gently while bending the stalks over the basket to drop the seeds into the container. The Menominee would tap the seeds into a canoe but that was not an option here.
The seeds were then roasted in a cast iron pot over a wood fire. The problem was that after that one needs to loosen the husks from the toasted grains. Every technique I tried resulted in broken grains. I had heard that the rice needed to be gently walked on to do that. A 250 pond adult male does not walk gently. I tried gently kneading with a rolling pin but that was way too slow and still some grains would crack.
Researching further I found that the Menominee lightly pound the rice by dropping a 4 inch thick 3 foot long piece of wood onto the unhulled rice from a height of a few inches. Then a child would dance or walk on the rice to loosen the hulls before the chaff and hulls blown off by tossing in the air.
So I have adapted a piece of hazel from last springs coppice to use for the pounder and will have my granddaughter dance on the rice.
Other plants near or along the pond include lavender, marjoram, oregano, jewel weed , sages, Juneberry;catnip and ferns.
The idea of growing the rice did not occur to us until last January so it was somewhat spur of the moment. I was pleasantly surprised to actually get a crop of wild rice. The trial will be expanded this year to see just how much rice I can get to grow here. The watercress was the original objective with the upper pond. That was an immense success to the point where we had about 150 pounds of cress that we did not use. I had a buyer lined up but he was a no show. At least I do know that the market is there.
Many of the ideas on how to process the rice came from a 1928 report called Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. Anyone have any ideas on how I can improve this guild given its size limitations or on how someone might scale it up if they have access to a slow moving stream or a lake fed by creek or river? Remember that watercress can be invasive if not harvested regularly.
In nature the wild rice seems to grow in large colonies. A good example is at Trempeleau Bay at Perrot State Park along the Mississippi north of La Crosse WI.

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Pictures from Bryce.... His computer was having troubles posting them...

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Pictures are still in the camera and need some editing as to resolution and all. The rice yield was only about a pound because I had thinned the planting. Using the pots to plant the rice in was an experiment in itself and the rice in the pots were very overcrowded. Thinning seemed a good option. Future plantings will compare yields using pots on one side of the shallow upper pond with free sown plantings on the other side. Last years results indicate that the pots may very well constrict root growth of the wild rice and that best results may be gotten by free sown plantings. Still I am going to compare the 2 techniques. My best guess id that with maximal planting of the rice and watercress mix that the guild should yield at most 2 pounds of wild rice. The objective of this trial was to see if it was possible to grow wild rice in a backyard pond. Yes it is. Next question is how much can be grown. For suburbanites with a larger pond it should be possible to grow quite a bit. A major requirement for the wild rice is that the water has to be moving---but slowly. So to grow it in a shallow and stagnant pond, seep , or rain garden would probably result in a decreased yield.The pond at Stelle might work because its size allows for the wind to exert movement of the water. The watercress doesn't seem to be intimidated by anything and grows quite well. In fact the last cress harvest of 2009 was on December 15th just before the bulk of the upper pond froze over. Some of the rice has probably self sown as birds and chipmunks were my yardstick of measurement as to when the rice was ripe.
This guild utilizes as its main species a perennial, watercress; and a self sowing annual grass, the wild rice. It should be possible to utilize the edges along the shore/rock walls to grow other water loving species. Also lots of frogs and toads and their tadpoles get shelter in the upper pond. Perhaps red lobelia might be a plant for along the edge. It is a good pollinator attractor. I did try Bacopa monnieri an Indian herb but its affinity for water was vastly overrated and it ended up transplanted to a pot where its doing much better.
Bryce, Crops for wetlands in general are a really important area that needs attention.I'm really excited to see someone trying wild rice. Its my number one favorite idea because we could construct overflow wetlands from our ponds that would recharge aquifers and the surrounding soil while getting a VERY valuable yield as well as the obvious habitat value. Rain gardens just don't cut it for permaculture. From what I've read wild rice grows only in specific conditions in the wild up north there but then it seems to being produced commercially in Ca.! Can anyone fill me in on the true state of the art here? Also, we probably need real breeding work from the pros as well to get the best variety- does anyone have thoughts on how feasible that might be? Also, kudos to Bill and Becky for this idea- guilds are the holy grail of permaculture and need lots and lots of discussion and experimenting. Great idea.
Good luck,
eric smith
Rain gardens arent all that bad- its a great way to use runoff, keep water on site, take the load off watershed drainage and focus fertility!
There are only 2 species of wild rice species in North America, Zizania palustris in the east and another to the west.
Unsure of that species name but I think that it's Zizania aquatica. There has been little breeding work on wild rice. It is probably best to keep it that way as Monsanto and their ilk would just be suing the Chippewa in Minnesota after the wind blew GM pollen over the traditional rice crop.
After reading some of the posts here I have had some thoughts concerning what I would like to call Guerilla Permaculture, that is the idea and practice of rather than wait for the world to come to us we can take the practice of a native based permaculture to the world.
Why not take wild rice or whatever native species and just enable it in some suitable and traditional habitat that will allow it to anchor a permaculture niche? Now this idea is just in it's gestationary mode yet but why not be the change we want to see in the world, why not go and enable the habitats for a diverse permaculture? A diversity that can be based upon the traditional ecosystems tried by time and nature here in the Midwest. For instance here in Southeastern Wisconsin there are numerous waterways that are being restored to their normal historical flow patterns. Why not help restore the biomes by planting wild rice and compatible species traditional to those water courses and let nature fill in the blanks bringing back its bird and animal species. If we enable it to happen then the amphibians and reptiles, the birds and insects , the animals both human and non will be able to co exist sustainably. Tall order but who knows what will be if only we let it happen?
Wild rice is only a single example of what can happen if only it is allowed to be. How can change be allowed to be? Plant it. Nurture it. Enable it. If we spend all our time debating the ideas of planting fruits and veggies for our own use on our own land then we will lose the opportunity to restore the commons to what it once was, A breadbasket for us and home for the worlds creatures.
Bryce I am with you on the Guerilla gardening approach reading this post shows me that I came to the right place to learn what I need to know
Bryce, hello to you from Quincy, Illinois. Was in class with you at MREA in spring(2007?)
Meanwhile, your pond sounds exactly like the pond scenario I just installed, and approximately the same surface areas. This is just too cool. I am psyched to hear of your success. Do you think I can grow wild rice here in Central Illinois? If I were to send some photos, might you advise me? Also, please explain the pump system? Are they solar pumps and if so, what is their wattage,ampage, water volume, et cetera. Also, what seed and/or plant source do you purchase your plants/seed.
Thanks so much for sharing this, I am so encouraged.
Rebecca Fischer
Rebecca the pump for the lower pond is an Alpine Surge Plus 590. 35w,and 590 gph. No amperage listed on the data sheet.
Site is www.alpine4u.com for more info on their pumps.
For the upper pond I have misplaced the manual and data sheet but here is an equivalent pump: Easy Pro, 1350gph,90W, with a 3/4 inch discharge and 1100 gph 5 feet lift motor head.That basically just means that if the pump has to lift the water 5 feet up that its output is 1100 gallons per hour rather than the 1350 gph it can pump if it were barely submerged.My pump is set 3 feet deep in the pond and pumps water to 5 feet higher in the upper pond. Both pumps are epoxy filled and lubrication free mag driven with a 3 year warranty. They run from a grid electric supply although are adaptable to wind or solar powered supply with battery storage backups of course.
The watercress was bought at a local food co-op and came from an aquaculture facility on Milwaukee's north side, Growing Power. It will root at every leaf node so if you can locate watercress at any grocery store or inhe wild just throw the leaves with attached stems into the water and stand back. Within a month or two you'll have more watercress than you ever thought possible.
Wild rice was sourced from Vermont Wetland Supply on the internet.Other plants were bought from local nurseries dealing with water plants. Do not use variegated sweet flag as it has some toxic properties. Only use the all green leafed North American type. Herbs along the rock walls were from local nurseries also. An excellent bee attractant was the Walker's Low Catnip which spread to about 3 feet. Rarer herbs such as Czech Lavender, Zhi Mu, Herb Robert, and Red Root Sage came from Horizon Herbs in Washington state. Another source was Richter's Herbs in Canada.
I can send you more pictures of the ponds or you can get an idea of what we've done by checking at Wayne Weissman's site Permaculture Works as I've posted about 25 years worth of pictures there.
Bryce, WOW!! They are truly stunning ponds-really beautiful as well as useful. Now THAT'S permaculture. One other thought. My idea of doing wildrice in overflow wetlands might not be the best since wild rice requires running water (although breeding/experimentaion may alter that requirement). Maybe using the rice might work for a filter bed for a natural swimming pool/high quality water storage (boderline potable) as that might keep the water in higher quality condition and justify the pumping cost.One could still incorporate an overflow wetland component to the design depending on the site/design. In terms of spreading wildrice to natural habitats- if we plant it in our own designs won't it naturally be spread to local waterways by natural means i.e. birds, mice,etc.?My point is that it would be another stacked function rather than another job that way.That rice looks good too. Thanks, eric
Thanks, Bryce, can you share the website for Wayne's Permaculture Works? I cannot seem to locate it.
I just scrolled up and saw the photos of your pond--beautiful! The kids are great too. Wonderful.
Thanks for sharing,
That last pic is of our grandkinder. From left Dora 11, Owen 6, and Keltyn 14. They are with the elderberry harvest and the wild rice is in the cast iron pot by Keltyn.The pond is behind them.


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