Rice Rice Baby

April 23rd, 2015

At Babylonstoren almost anything grows.  Our guests love risotto and the artists of Babel make it so yummy. Could we grow it ourselves? Lunatically we now tried our hands at planting Carnaroli – a risotto traditionally cultivated in the north of Italy, regions Piedmont and Lombardy. Carnaroli is considered “the caviar of rice”. But rice needs lotsa-lotsa water, and in South Africa it has never really been cultivated successfully.  So we dug a paddy and this is how it developed:

Preparing the ground at Babylonstoren for planting riceRice field at Babylonstoren being nurtured with a lot of water

We started building the rice paddy in January 2014. Contractors dug a small dam just below the existing vlei. Then the floor of the paddy had to be levelled, but with a slight slant sideways where narrow channels provide drainage.

Early stages of the rice field at Babylonstoren


Hannes opening one of the floodgates at Babylonstoren Rice field showing promise at Babylonstoren

With help from his friend Attilio Dilpiaz, an Italian agronomist, our farm manager Hannes tackled his first rice harvest.  The seeds were planted last October, then the soil was thoroughly irrigated, mornings and late afternoons, until the seeds germinated. Once the plant had grown to about 30 cm high with four leaves, we flooded the paddy with water from the vlei. Rice grows in water about 30 – 40cm deep and the paddy is filled up as the plant grows. As the risotto starts to ripen, the paddy is left to dry before the harvest starts, some 150 days after planting.  (And the frogs then scramble back to the vlei next door.)

Rice field close-up at Babylonstoren

We faced quite a number of challenges in this first go.  How to get rid of reeds, how to regulate water temperature and (once the ears of rice starts to ripen) how to keep away birds – but the words “can’t be done” are not employed at Babylonstoren.

Beautiful rice field at Babylonstoren farmRice field ready to be harvested at Babylonstoren

We can’t tell you yet about the harvest festival (see in the June issue of Taste magazine). But we’re waiting for a Zanotti Rice Mill to arrive from Italy. This thingy will remove the husk and polish the grain.  Then we’ll test what the artists of Babel can cook up.  As they say, the proof of the pudding …


  1. jenny davies says:

    You are all truly inspirational XX

    • Loaine Kopman says:

      How absolutely amazingly clever and spectacular and downright fantastically brilliant to do such a thing! of course you can grow anything – what about the lotuses?

  2. Cecelle says:

    How fantastic – what an achievement can’t believe that someone is not going try a little bit as an experiment ! Well done! Look out China here we come!

  3. noreen says:

    How interesting, well done on this achievement. Is there anything you can’t grow?

  4. Annekie Joubert says:

    Well done! Anything is possible when you really WILL!

  5. Marianne says:

    Kan nie wag om die risotto te proe nie!!!

  6. CRISTIANA says:

    Wow!!! really well done! I’m Italian and coming from the regions ( my mother from Lombardy & my father from Piedmont) and area of Riso & Risaie….now I will feel really at home !
    next spet come to try your risotto .
    Thank you !

  7. Leonie says:

    That is fantastic. Well done. Been to Piedmont last year October and spent some time at Oryza – the rice paddies. Wonderful experience. Cannot wait to see if it will bring back the same memories when I visit Babylonstoren later in the year.

  8. Hannes,

    Julle is werklik innoverent. Great stuff!!!


    Reme Levember – Agrimark Simondium

  9. Gerrit says:

    Soos altyd – !!! Niks staan vir jou hande verkeerd nie Hannes – Trots, SuperTrots – my boesemvriend !

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