Harvesting and Curing Sweet Potatoes

Two people digging up sweet potatoes
Two of our great volunteers digging up sweet potatoes

Anxious to harvest sweet potatoes? Hold off! While you can technically harvest as soon as the tubers reach a decent size, the longer they are in the soil the sweeter and higher in vitamin content the sweet potatoes will be.⠀

Ideally, gardeners should wait until right before the first frost to harvest to achieve the best flavor. This requires you to watch for when frost is predicted and harvest right before that. Sweet potatoes can survive a frost but since they are a tropical plant, there is always the risk that a frost will kill the vine which will cause them to start rotting in the ground. (We typically harvest our sweet potatoes in late October depending on the timing of the first frost.)

children removing the sweet potato vines from the plants to ready the roots for digging
The first step to sweet potato harvest is to remove the leaves and vines so you can find the roots.

While sweet potatoes can be eaten straight from the ground, you are likely to be disappointed in the flavor. Curing triggers the sugar-producing enzymes and heals nicks, so skipping this step results in starchy, tasteless sweet potatoes with limited shelf life.

sweet potatoes laid out on a table curing
Sweet potatoes curing in our hoophouse

Curing is a two step process. First, leave the tubers in the sun for several hours to dry the skin in order to prevent rotting during the next step. Then move the potatoes to a warm, humid place for 4-10 days. This is when the starch is converted to sugar. Ideal conditions for this step are 85-90°F and 85% humidity. A hoop house usually provides optimal conditions but a pantry with a small bucket of water and space heater will achieve this (keep an eye on the temperature).  The closer you get to those ideals the better but those two options aren’t always the most practical for gardeners.  We have also seen success form those who lay their sweet potatoes out in a sunroom or porch where there is plenty of air and protected from rain.  We have even met people who have had success laying them on their dining room table with a fan running.  No matter how you do it make sure to regularly check the sweet potatoes and get rid of any that are spoiling. At the end of the curing process, place them in a cool spot for storage. Ideal conditions are 55-60°F and 75% humidity. Basements frequently approximate these conditions.

Orchard Resources

Looking for resources on growing fruit trees holistically in the Greater St. Louis climate? Gateway Greening, in partnership with The Giving Grove, is happy to provide our recommended tips and tricks to successful growth. Below you will find recommended tree varieties, a holistic spray regime fact sheet, and individual tree information sheets that will guide you through planting specifications, a timeline of care, pests, and disease to looks out for.

Gateway Greening’s and Giving Grove Recommended Varieties

Holistic Sprays

Winterizing Figs and Pomegranates

Beneficial Plants in the Orchard

Fruit Tree Care Sheets




Grapes and Kiwis






Raspberries and Blackberries


How to Deal with the Worst Squash Pest, the Vine Borer

By: Jackson Hambrick

In St. Louis, right around now is the time to start planting zucchini and summer squash. These
plants love our long summers and produce lots of fruit but lots of gardeners have trouble with
pests getting to them.

“Vine Borer Damage on Zucchini Plant” by thesoutherngardener is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of the most common pests that kill squash is the Squash Vine Borer. If you have had problems in the past with your squash plants looking healthy one minute and then wilting and dying out of nowhere then you may have had vine borers. This is a tell-tale sign of them because the borer eats its way up into the base of the squash plant and prevents nutrients and water from being taken up by the roots and reaching the rest of the plant.

There are few options for dealing with vine borers. First, you may want to plant varieties that the vine borers do not find as tasty. If you like zucchini or summer squash, think about trying Tromboncino squash. If you are looking to replace pumpkins or winter squash you can try
Seminole Pumpkins. Both of these varieties have little to no pest pressure from vine borers.
But if you do not want to grow those varieties you still have some options. The Squash Vine
borer starts as cocoons in the ground. In Missouri, the adult moth emerges from the cocoon
around late May to June. The moth’s wings are green and it has an orange and black body. It looks similar to some wasps.

“Squash Vine Borer (Melittia cucurbitae)” by Jim, the Photographer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once the moth has emerged it lays eggs at the base of squash plants. About a week after the eggs are laid they hatch the borers that eat their way up into the squash plant. After they’ve had
their fill in the squash plant which is about a month to six weeks, they go back underground and stay underground until the next summer.

A bed of summer squash covered with insect netting

The simplest method to prevent squash borers is to cover your squash plants while the adult moths are out. You can cover your plants with a floating row cover or insect netting. This cover can be put on the right when you plant squash and you can leave it on until your squash plants start to flower. You can water through the covers. You can hold up the covers with PVC or small metal rings.

If your squash died last year do not plant squash there again. The vine borers will be in the ground and if you cover the squash plants, you are trapping the vine borer moths under the row cover with your squash!

If you have not covered your squash there are a few other things you can do. To see if you have the borers look at the base of your squash plants. Holes and orange goo at the base are signs that the vine borers are in the squash. You can try and cut them out by cutting an incision lengthwise at the base and then covering it with soil after you pull out the borer. There can, however, be multiple borers in one plant. You can also try to kill the borers while they are inside the stem of the squash plant. You can do this by taking clothespins or something sharp and stab into the side of the base of the plant.

There are other ways to deal with vine borers but we find growing squash they do not like or using a physical barrier as the most effective ways to deal with them.

Good luck with your planting!

Growing Water Chestnuts in St. Louis

by: Dean Gunderson

If you want to try something new and different this year and still get a fair amount of food than water chestnuts are worth a try.

There are actually two different, unrelated crops that are commonly known as water chestnuts; Eleocharis dulcis and Trapa natans.  Trapa natans is a floating aquatic plant that can grow in water up to 15 feet deep whose seeds are eaten whereas Eleocharis dulcis is an aquatic plant that likes to grow in shallow standing water of around 4” deep whose tuber like corms are eaten.  It is Eleocharis dulcis that we did a grow trial of at the demonstration garden in 2020 and from here on out that is the species we will be referring to when we say water chestnut.

shows a tadpole swimming in one of our water chestnut "ponds"
Side benefit of growing water chestnuts is building habitat. We had quite a few tadpoles living in our water chestnut “ponds.”

Although water chestnut is a perennial in hardiness zone 9 and higher where winters only go down into the 20’s at their lowest, in St. Louis it’s grown as an annual.  To get a good harvest when growing it as an annual it needs about a 7 month growing season.  It’s an aquatic plant that likes to be grown in standing water.  Different aquatic plants prefer different water depths but it is generally accepted that about 4” of standing water is optimal for water chestnut.  Also like pretty much all crops they do best when they have full sun.




The first thing you need to do to grow water chestnuts is to find water chestnuts to plant.  Water chestnut plants are grown by planting fresh water chestnuts, similarly to how garlic or potatoes are grown.  The tricky part is that although water chestnuts can be found in just about any grocery store in a can, they are much harder to find fresh, which is what you need.  Your best bet is to look at an international grocery store or to find some for sale from a grower online. 

Small water chestnut ready for planting
A small water chestnut ready for planting

The water chestnuts can be quite small for planting, in fact the ones we got were very small as you can see in the picture.  Once we have the water chestnut starts we planted them into individual pots in potting mix and put all of the pots into a tray to hold water.  Then we put them under our grow lights just like all of our other seedlings.  When they are little they need plenty of water but don’t need to be in standing water so we just watered them until water came out of the bottom of the pots and stated going into the tray beneath them.

At this point you just treat them like your warm season vegetable seedlings, keeping them inside with plenty of light and water until the temperatures warm up.


Based on our trials this year any container that can hold water and that you can put in full sun will work.  The kiddie pools worked well for us and they are cheap and easy to get.  They also give you a pretty large growing area for how much soil you need and for the cost of the container.

Once you have a container picked out you need to fill it with soil.  The kiddie pools we had we put 5-6” of soil in the kiddie pool.  A good garden mix is best.  Since it’s essentially a pot the plants only have the nutrients that are in the soil you put in there, there roots can’t wander so you don’t want to put just topsoil.  Nice rich soil is best.  We added some potting mix to ours because we had it and it worked but all the perlite (the little white beads that look like Styrofoam) floated to the top.


Once your container is prepped it’s time to plant.  They are warm season plants so it is best to wait to plant them outside at the same time you would plant your tomatoes, beans, and squash.  They spread quite a bit over the growing season so you also don’t need many plants.  We only planted 6 little water chestnut plants in each kiddie pool and they were full by the end of the year as you can see in the pictures below.

Left picture shows water chestnuts soon after planting when the kiddie pool looks sparse.  Right image shows the kiddie pool totally full in September
Left: water chestnut containers on July 22nd. Right: water chestnut containers on August 21st

Once they are planted just water the container until a minimum of one inch of water is standing on top of the entire surface.  Then the rest of the growing season all you need to do is add more water anytime there isn’t standing water on the surface.  If you keep them watered enough so there is always standing water there will be virtually no weeds and you won’t need to weed the container.


show a hole dug in the side of the pool full of water
A hole dug in the side of the water chestnut container allowing you to bale the water out for harvest

In the fall you will start noticing the tips of the green tops will start turning straw colored and drying out.  Over several weeks they will continue to turn from green to straw colored moving from the top down.  This is normal and a good sign.  It means that as winter is coming the plant is recognizing it and putting the energy that’s in the green tops that are inedible down into the water chestnuts below ground that you want to eat.  Once the tops couple of inches are straw colored you no longer need to keep it flooded.

Once the tops are mostly straw colored, or if a cold period down into the mid to low 20’s or lower is coming it’s time to harvest.

The first step is to drain off the water.  The easiest way to do this is to dig a hole in the container all the way down to the bottom on the side big enough for you to reach down to the bottom with a cup or other thing that will hold water.  You can see an example in the picture below.  Then fill up the cup with the water and dump it out.  Continue to do this until the water is all drained from the container.

Then all you need to do is work up the soil with a trowel or your hands.  Since the soil is so wet it’s generally easy to just work through the soil with your hands and pull out the water chestnuts as you find them.

series of images showing how the water chestnuts grow on the ends of roots and showing them in someones hand for scale
Water chestnuts grow on the ends of roots. The soil is usually soft enough that pulling the whole plant out will yield many of the water chestnuts.


showing a bowl of muddy water chestnuts in a metal bowl ready to be stored
These freshly harvested water chestnuts are ready to be put in a plastic bag in the fridge

As with most root crops it’s best to not wash the water chestnuts.  After harvesting they are generally caked in mud and this is actually good.  It will help keep them wet and protected from drying out.  Store them in a loosely closed plastic bag in your refrigerator, ideally in the crisper drawer.  As of this writing we have had them stored this way for over two months and they are still nice and crisp.





The only preparation needed is to wash them and peel them.  I found the best way to wash them is to take a handful and rub them all together in your hand vigorously under running water and the dirt comes off very quickly.  Then peel them with a knife or vegetable peeler. 

After that use them however you like.  They are edible raw but are also great in all sorts of dishes to add a nice fresh crunch to almost any meal.


Since not everyone has full sun and because setting up a growing area that will hold standing water might not be easy for everyone we grew our water chestnuts in 4 different beds with different situations to see what was most important to get a good yield of large water chestnuts.  The size of the water chestnuts is particularly important because they have to be peeled so even if you get a high yield if they are the size of a large bean it’s not very feasible to peel them vs. ones that are the size of a large walnut are much easier to peel.  We used four different beds to compare the impact of soil depth, sun, and water level on yield and the size of water chestnuts.  The four beds were as follows

  • Bed 1: Full sun 8” deep kiddie pool with several inches of standing water all year
  • Bed 2: Full sun 8” deep kiddie pool with a hole in it that was watered heavily but not flooded
  • Bed 3: Partial sun 8” deep kiddie pool with several inches of standing water all year
  • Bed 4: Full sun 24” deep rice bed with a hole in it that was watered heavily but not flooded

Bed 1 is what is generally recommended by others.  Bed 2 is to see if the water chestnuts could be grown in heavily watered but not flooded conditions similarly to how some rice varieties can be grown with minimal yield impacts.  Bed 3 was to see how much impact level of sun has on yield and water chestnut size.  Bed 4 was to see if a deeper bed would result in higher yields by comparing it to Bed 2 as a simulation of growing it in ground.


side by side images showing how much more vigorously the plants in Bed 1 grew than in Bed 2
Bed 1 on the right, Bed 2 on the left on August 21st. Although they both filled the bed by the end of November it was obvious when this picture was taken that the plants in bed 1 were much happier

What we found from the tests were that the most vital factor to both yield and size of water chestnuts is sun.  Bed 3 had by far the lowest yield and smallest size water chestnuts.  Most of the water chestnuts in bed 4 were two small to feasibly peel.  Water level was the next most important with Bed 2 and Bed 4 yielding more than bed 4 but about half the yield as bed 1 per square foot.  The size of the water chestnuts in the unflooded beds were nice and big still. Soil depth seemed to have little to no effect on yield or size of water chestnut.  The size of the water chestnuts in Bed 2 and Bed 4 were almost identical and the yields were also very similar.  The only real difference that was noticed was that the water chestnuts in Bed 4 were more spread out whereas those in Bed 2 were almost all growing right on the bottom of the kiddie pool so harvest was much faster in Bed 2.

shows a size comparison of water chestnuts from a flooded  bed and an unflooded bed.  those fro the unflooded bed are about half the size
Left: water chestnuts from unflooded Bed 2. Right: water chestnuts from flooded Bed 1

What all of this seems to suggest is that shallow pots like kiddie pools will work fine as long as you grow them in full sun and to maximize yields you really want a container that will allow standing water.


After our success in 2020 we grew water chestnuts again in 2021.  We confirmed our results from last year harvesting a pound per square foot in the containers that were in full sun and flooded and slightly less in those that were heavily watered but in containers that had a slow leak.  We also confirmed that those that were in full sun produced large water chestnuts.  In fact this year the chestnuts were on average much larger than last year now that we know what we are doing, making them much easier to peel. 

In total we harvested a little over 29 pounds of large water chestnuts from 1 raised bed lined with plastic and 2 kiddie pools.

After seeing that the water chestnuts grew fine in the kiddie pool that was watered heavily, but had a leak so did not have standing water, we decided the next step would be to see if they could grow in a normal raised bed that was watered heavily.  Unfortunately they did not survive, let alone produce a harvestable yield.  

We also tested to see if the container size affected the yield or water chestnut size and received promising results.  Whereas last year we planted in large kiddie pools about 5′ in diameter, this year we planted in both a 5′ diameter one from last year and a 3′ diameter one to see if the smaller size would have a negative impact on the yields.  What we found was although the water chestnuts were slightly smaller than in the larger kiddie pool they were still large enough to peel and the total yield was comparable per square foot. 

So our results from last year stand that full sun is critical for large water chestnuts and yield and that the more water they get the higher the yield.  We also confirmed last years results that depth of container doesn’t seem vital, with the kiddie pools yielding equivalent to the raised bed per square foot.  Finally, we found this year that container size, at least down to a 3′ diameter kiddie pool (7 square feet), doesn’t seem to negatively impact harvestable yield.

Low Tunnels

by: Dean Gunderson

One of the most adaptable items in the gardens is a good set of wire or pvc hoops to create low tunnels.  Depending on what fabric goes over your low tunnel hoops it can protect crops from early or late frosts, overwinter cold hardy crops, shade crops to keep them cooler in summer and fall, minimize pests, or minimize disease. 

So what is a low tunnel?  Low tunnels, also called quick hoops, are like a small greenhouse that covers a raised bed or rows of in ground plantings that you can’t walk into, unlike a greenhouse or high tunnel.  The structure of the low tunnel that holds the fabric up is usually made of wire or pvc pipes and are bent into an arch shape and just pushed into the ground at the edges of the raised bed or on the edges of the in ground rows of plants.  These hoops hold the fabric material up above the plants so the fabric isn’t just laying on the leaves of the plants.  The fabric it pulled taught and secured to the ground to hold it in place.

How to Build a Low Tunnel

The first step of building a low tunnel is putting the hoops in.  You can use any material that can be made into an arch but the most popular is a heavy wire, which you can bend into a hoop or can be purchased prebent, like these.  Another readily accessible material that can easily be bent into an arch is a thin pvc pipe.  You just push the ends of the hoops into the ground at least 4”-6”.  You should place one hoop on each end of the raised bed or planting row and then another hoop every 3-4’ between those end hoops.  

Wire hoops ready to be covered with low tunnel plastic
Wire hoops ready to be covered with low tunnel plastic

Then cut your cover fabric of choice 4’ longer than the bed or row you are trying to cover and drape it over the hoops (different fabric options and the uses for each type will be discussed later). 

Draping the low tunnel plastic over the wire hoops
Draping the low tunnel plastic over the wire hoops
Low tunnel plastic in place and ready to be secured
The low tunnel plastic is in place and ready to be secured with sod staples or bricks

Then secure the ends of the fabric to the ground.  This can be done in several ways.  The cheapest and simplest is just to put rocks or bricks all along the ends of the fabric to weight it down to the ground.  You can also secure the fabric with sod staples, like these.  Just bundle up the ends of your fabric and push the staple through the bundled edge and all the way down into the soil.  Space these staples every 9”-12” along the sides that don’t need to be opened regularly.  Knowing if it needs to be opened regularly brings us to management considerations.

showing pushing the sod staple through bundled up plastic to secure it
This is how you bundle up the fabric on the end and apply the sod staple
Showing that you want to push the staple all the way into the soil
Make sure you push the staple all the way through the plastic and down into the soil to hold the plastic down tight.

One of the most important things to remember is that you need to access the plants under the low tunnel.  So you can put the sod staples all the way around the low tunnel but it might be easier to do sod staples on both short sides and one long side but use rocks on the other long side so it’s easier to open and close that size so you have easy access to your plants.  Another thing to remember is that if you are covering the plants to protect from frost for season extension in spring and/or fall remember that our weather can swing wildly in St. Louis in those seasons so having the cover on when it’s cold is important but if then there is a day that is a little warmer, even if it’s not hot, but it’s sunny the plants can actually overheat just like a car sitting in the sun.  So especially those times of years you might need to vent your low tunnel.  This would mean opening up an end of the tunnel during the morning and then closing it again in the evening if it will be cold that night.

The Fabric Options

There are several different options of material to cover the low tunnel with and, which material to use depends on what the goals are.  Below are 4 different cover options for a low tunnel.  Each section describes the material, what it can be used for, and how to manage a low tunnel for that use.

  1. Insect Netting: This mesh material is great for covering crops if you are trying to keep pests away from your crops, especially in the summer.  It is airy enough that it doesn’t cast shade and also doesn’t retain heat.  It is also airy enough that rain will go through it so you don’t need to open the low tunnel to vent heat or to water your plants with insect netting.  This can be especially helpful to set up and put over brassica crops to keep out cabbage worms and cabbage loopers and to put over squash to keep out squash vine borers.  It can really be used over any plant to keep out pests and the diseases those pests might be carrying.  The main thing to keep in mind with using insect netting is that a net that keeps out pest insects will also keep out pollinators.  So if you need pollinators in order for your crop to produce, like with squash, you will need to remove the netting once the plant starts flowering or you will need to hand pollinate.  An important note about insect netting is that it is best to cover your plants as soon as you plant them.  If you wait there is the possibility that the insects will already have laid eggs in the soil or on the plant and then if you put the barrier over you are trapping the pest in with your plant.
  2. Low Tunnel Plastic: This plastic is simply sheet plastic that can be put over low tunnel hoops for season extension and/or overwintering.  This type of plastic is perfect for putting on in early spring to warm up the soil faster in order to plant sooner or putting on in late fall to keep the soil warm longer in order to continue harvesting later in the year.  If put up in late fall over cold hardy crops it can help to overwinter those crops so they can be harvested all winter long.  Clear plastic will heat up more than white plastic but both are used.  Plastic is the material that will heat up the most so is the best option if you are tying to overwinter crops.  Since plastic doesn’t allow air flow it will definitely need to be vented on sunny days to prevent overheating especially in the spring and fall if used for season extension.  There are also types of low tunnel plastic that have either slits or holes punched in it to prevent overheating, like this low tunnel plastic.  These types don’t need to be vented manually.  Plastic also doesn’t allow rain to go through it so you will periodically need to open it up to water the plants.
  3. Shade Cloth: This material looks like a loose weave mesh and is usually made of a colored plastic material, oftentimes black.  It is designed to cast shade on the crops underneath it.  Shade is particularly helpful in late spring-early summer when trying to keep your spring crops cool so they are less liable to bolt and will keep producing as it starts getting hot.  It can also be put on in late summer in order to keep your fall crops cool as the seeds germinate and start growing in the hot sun of summer.  As this is just to cast shade it doesn’t need to go all the way to the ground and leaving some gaps at the bottom helps increase airflow.  As it is a loose mesh rain will go through to water the crops.
  4. Row Cover: This is maybe the most adaptable cover for a low tunnel.  It can be used for all 3 of the things the above fabrics can be used for but generally not as good as the fabric that is specially for those 3 things.  It is a spun fabric that looks similar to the type of fabric that dryer sheets are made of.  It traps heat and therefore is often used for season extension.  For protecting from early or late frosts it is generally easier to used than plastic because is less liable to overheat but it is not as good for overwintering because it doesn’t trap as much heat and allows more airflow increasing cold winds.  It is also nicer than plastic in regards to watering because it allows rain to get through which plastic doesn’t.  Row cover also casts shade but only about 15% whereas most shade cloth for vegetables is 30%-40% shade so if doubled or tripled up it could serve as this purpose a little better.  However, as it does trap heat unless you can allow a lot of airflow it can actually be counterproductive if you are casting shade to try and keep things cool.  It is also good as an insect barrier.  In this regard it does just as good of a job as insect netting with all of the same considerations discussed above when it comes to insect netting.  The main problem with using row cover to keep insects out is that as mentioned it also retains heat so can cause overheating when trying to cover squash, brassicas, or any other crop in the middle of summer, when there are so many pests.

Another thing to consider when it comes to selecting and using your low tunnel fabric is that you don’t necessarily have to just do one layer or even just one type of fabric.  As mentioned you could double or triple up row cover to make it cast more shade.  It is also common to do multiple layers of row cover in order to increase how much insulation it provides to protect crops from lower temperatures.  A similar thing can be done with plastic.  Doing two layers of plastic will protect the crops they cover from lower temperatures than a single layer of plastic.  This works because the air between the two layers of plastic acts like an insulation layer.  If you are trying to protect your brassicas from cabbage worms and loopers and also want to cast some shade to help them through the heat of summer you could put on a layer of insect netting and then a layer of shade cloth on top.  

All in all the next time you have an issue in the garden don’t overlook how useful a low tunnel can be and maybe consider using one to increase your yields and lower your work load.

Processing Rice

by Dean Gunderson

This is the second Part of our series on growing and processing rice.  To learn how to grow your own rice check out our blog post on it here.

So the rice is grown, the plants are harvested and have been dried, but now what?  How is this dried grass plant turned into a bowl of delicious cooked rice? Well with the right tools, the right know-how, and a little bit of elbow grease it’s possible to grow rice starting from seed and ending in any rice dish desired.

Fully dried rice bundles ready for processing
Fully dried rice bundles ready for processing

When it comes to processing rice there are three main steps.  In order, those steps are to thresh the rice, dehull the rice, and finally to winnow the rice. Threshing is the process of removing the seeds (the grain) from the rest of the plant (the straw).  Dehulling is taking the hull, which is the papery straw-colored covering that surrounds each individual rice seed, off of the grain. Winnowing is separating out the grain from the chaff, which is the name for the hull once it’s been removed from the grain.  So let’s start at the beginning.

All that’s required to thresh grain is a little force.  There are many ways to thresh rice but probably the easiest way for garden scale production is the trash can method.  For this all that is needed is a trash can or some other large container. Grab a small bundle of dried rice plants and hold them about halfway up the stalk with the top of the plant, where all the seeds are, inside the trash can.  Then vigorously move the bundle of rice back and forth hitting the inside walls of the trashcan until the grains have been knocked off into the trash can. After doing a couple of bundles you will get a feel for how fast to move the bundle and how much force to hit the sides with.  It does require a fair amount of force so don’t be timid about it.

Image showing two bundles of rice.  One before and the other after threshing using the trash can method.

Rice bundle before (left) and after (right) threshing using the trash can method

There are plenty of other ways to thresh rice that can be tried if desired.  One way is to cut a length of old garden hose and while holding the rice inside a trash can beat the seeds with the piece of hose to knock them off.  Just beating the plants on the ground is another easy way to do it and the main way people have threshed grain since the beginning of agriculture. The main downside to this method is the seeds will often go flying and make a mess.  Another way that is particularly fun if working with kids is to put the dried plants on a tarp and cover them with another tarp or the other side of the same tarp. Then have the kids walk or stomp all over the plants. This force will knock the seeds off the stalks.  The main downside to this is that it takes more work to separate the seeds from all the straw.

Now to the hulling.  Hulling requires the twisting, rubbing, or grinding of the seed with just enough force to rub the papery hull off but not grind the grain into flour.  There are theoretically ways to do this without anything special and there are a lot of ideas on how to do this online. The internet suggests everything from rubbing it between the palms of the hands, laying the seeds on the table and rubbing them with a cutting board, twisting them on the ground under foot, a mortar and pestle, and on and on.  We feel comfortable saying that all of these techniques are great and will work fine……if the goal is to eat a tablespoon of rice. Staff and Gateway Elementary students tried all these ideas. Even energetic kindergarteners stomping on the rice yielded only a small cup of rice. 

Students helping to thresh rice by jumping on it sandwiched between two tarps
Students helping to hull rice by jumping on it sandwiched between two tarps

Luckily one of our AmeriCORP VISTAs Evelyn, was able to find a solution.  She was able to design, build, and write instructions on how to make a simple but really effective hand crank rice dehuller out of a cheap grain grinder, some rubber, and glue, for less than $30. So have a look here, do yourself a favor, and just build one of these, it’s pretty simple. 

Using the DIY grain dehuller

If you have any questions we are happy to help. The building instructions also have detailed instructions on how to use it. Essentially though it works by putting the unhulled rice in the top and cranking the handle until it all comes out and then run the same rice through again two more times and it is all dehulled and ready for the final step.

Now the last step is winnowing the grain from the chaff, which is just cleaning the grain.  Chaff is very light and airy whereas the grain is relatively heavy. So the chaff just needs to be blown off.  There are two main ways of doing this and which method to use is up to personal preference and the quantity of grain to be winnowed.  If there is only a cup or two of dehulled rice the easiest way is usually to put it in a big bowl. Take the bowl of rice and chaff outside and while constantly swirling it inside the bowl forcefully blow into the bowl.  The chaff will blow up and out and the heavier grain will remain. Keep doing this until all the chaff is gone.

Dehulled rice ready to be winnowed
Dehulled rice ready to be winnowed

The other method is the most common method and the best if there is more than a cup or two.  This method requires two large containers and a breezy day. Although it’s best to do this outside because it can get messy if you want to do it inside a fan can replace the wind.  Hold the container with the rice and chaff about 18” or so above the empty container, which should be sitting on the ground, and slowly pour it into the empty container. The heavy rice grains will drop into the container but the lighter chaff will get carried away by the breeze.  Keep pouring the rice and chaff mixture from one container to the next, increasing the distance between the two as you feel comfortable. Then once the chaff is blown off all that will be left is the ready to cook rice.

Now also don’t forget to use all that straw and chaff from the rice processing.  The straw and chaff are great mulches for the garden, suppressing weeds and conserving moisture in garden beds.  In addition to its use as mulch, the chaff can also be used to make seed starting mix, which is used to start seeds indoors.  Mix 1 part rice chaff with 2 parts coco coir, which is a waste product of coconut farming, to make a good, sustainable seed starting mix. 

I forgot, there is actually one more step left to process the rice, the most important step!  Now it’s time to cook and eat some homegrown and processed St. Louis rice. Enjoy!

Garden Organizations

Local Organizations

Brightside St. Louis empowers St. Louisans to help make the region cleaner and greener through their demo garden, community education, and naturescaping services. http://www.brightsidestl.org/

Earthdance Farm School is a nationally recognized farm school that promotes and educates on organic farming through their apprenticeships, youth programs, classes, and volunteer opportunities.   http://earthdancefarms.org/

Forest ReLeaf is a nonprofit community-assisted tree nursery working to enrich communities and offer community outreach opportunities and educational classes.  http://moreleaf.org/

Good Life Growing is an urban farming company used as a site for community service, experiential learning, and service-learning.  https://www.goodlifegrowing.com/

The Green Center offers hands-on outdoor lessons for students where they can investigate and explore the prairie, wetland, or forest, as well as professional development classes are available to educators. https://www.thegreencenter.org/

Green City Coalition connects communities to nature by converting vacant lots into green spaces and works to improve neighborhood vitality & sustainability.  https://www.greencitycoalition.org/

Litzsinger Road Ecology Center works with educators and students to promote science teaching and learning at their study center, classrooms, and research lab.  https://litzsinger.org/

Maplewood-Richmond Heights’ Seed to Table promotes education, health, and wellness by connecting students to nature.  https://www.facebook.com/Seed2Table/

Missouri Botanical Garden offers various classes for adults on topics like gardening, green living, nature study, and outdoor adventures.  The Education Division offers nature-based and science-driven programs for pre-K-12 students that include outreach programs, teacher professional development, online resources and service learning opportunities.  http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/learn-discover.aspx

Operation Food Search provides evidence-based nutrition education to the local St. Louis area through their Nutrition Education Department. https://www.operationfoodsearch.org/programs/nutrition-education/

St. Louis Master Gardener was established by MOBOT to provide local horticultural education and programs led by trained volunteers.  They provide a list of online gardening resources on their site for the public: www.stlmg.com/Resources

St. Louis Beekeepers Association educates the public on beekeeping practices and promotes healthy natural systems where bees, pollinators and people can adapt and thrive.  http://www.saintlouisbeekeepers.com/

Slow Food St. Louis promotes good, clean, fair food for all through public education and their Biodiversity Micro Grant program.  https://slowfoodstl.org/

University of Missouri Extension uses research-based knowledge to address economic opportunity, educational excellence, and healthy futures in the state of Missouri.  https://extension2.missouri.edu/find-your-interest/agriculture-and-environment

Urban Harvest STL strives to make fresh, healthy food accessible to entire communities through their farms and various distribution channels, like the St. Louis Metro Market. https://www.urbanharveststl.org/

National Gardening Organizations

American Community Gardening Association is a nonprofit that builds community by improving and enhancing community gardens and greening in the U.S. and Canada.


National Agriculture in the Classroom provides support to state programs by giving teachers the knowledge, appreciation, and awareness to education and inform their students. https://www.agclassroom.org/index.cfm  (For school gardens)  

Out Teach is a national teacher-development nonprofit working to promote experiential learning in outdoor classrooms through their professional trainings.  https://www.out-teach.org/

Field Trips & Tours

Gateway Greening Demonstration Garden, Spring of 2016.


Explore the Demonstration Garden!

The Gateway Greening Demonstration Garden is open to the public every Saturday from 9 AM – Noon throughout the growing season. However, free guided tours that explore the garden’s history, existing infrastructure, and current garden experiments are only available to the general public three times a year:

Demonstration Garden Tour: Spring
March 17th, 2018
10 – 11 AM


Demonstration Garden Tour: Summer
July 21st, 2018
10 – 11 AM


Demonstration Garden Tour: Fall
September 22nd, 2018
10 – 11 AM


There is no registration or RSVP required to participate in the above mentioned tours, however, it is recommended that attendees arrive 10 minutes early as the tour will begin at 10 AM sharp.


Schedule a Tour

Groups may schedule a guided tour of the Gateway Greening Demonstration Garden or other requested location by contacting us at [email protected]. There is a fee of $5 per participant for scheduled tours.


 For youth field trip and tour information, please visit our Youth Education page here.