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.