Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Make Your Own Natural Liquid Fertilizers: Comfrey, 'Herby', and Manure Recipes

Making natural plant feed isn't difficult and can by made from many different sources like seaweed or even weeds. See part 1 to find out how.

Liquid Fertilizer

Liquid fertilizers that can be made organically in the garden using herbs. It is a great way to tame those herbs which self seed and spread quickly like fennel or those which grow fast like lemon balm or mint.

Here are some herbs and flowers which can be used to make a natural plant feed in the garden:

Herbs For a fertilizer

1. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), 2. Nasturtium, 3. Strawberry, 4. Borage (Borago officinalis)

You can even make liquid fertilizers using manure, soiled bedding from animals, worm castings and compost. There’s sure to be a recipe you can try in your garden.

As warned in part 1, natural homemade liquid plant feeds smell pretty terrible but the plants love them!

Herby Liquid Fertilizer

Don't be mistaken that this one will smell any better than the others, it doesn't! Like Gardener's Revenge, simply place at least 1/2 bucket of chopped herbs into a bucket and cover with water. Cover with a lid and leave 2 to 4 weeks.

Any culinary herb can be used and some of the medicinal ones. Avoid using anything which is poisonous. Some of the best herbs to use as a liquid fertilizer includes strawberry leaves, mint, dandelion, chamomile, yarrow and nettles. You can use a mixture of herbs or stick with a single variety.

The water should be drained off into bottles or containers and labelled with the contents, particularly if you used a mixture of herbs. To use, dilute around 1/3 cup in 2 gallon watering can for general watering. If using as a foliar feed, reduce the quantity to around 2 table spoons to a gallon of water to avoid leaf-burn.

Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer

Comfrey is a herb which can sometimes get a bit out of hand in the garden. Using it to make liquid fertilizer helps you to keep the plant (or plants) in check.


A young comfrey plant.

How I was originally taught to make this liquid feed is a slightly different process than the other liquid fertilizers.

To make, you will need a container punctured with a hole (or several holes if placing a bucket within a bucket). If using a bucket with a single hole, place up on a couple of cinder (breeze) blocks and place a watering can or container below to catch the liquid which will drain out.

Fill the bucket with comfrey leaves then weigh down with bricks. As the leaves decompose, a brown liquid will drip out into the container below. Store the liquid in a cool dark place. If you place the liquid in a bottle, don’t tighten the lids — the liquid ferments in warmer weather.

To use, dilute 1 part comfrey fertilizer to 15 parts water.

You can also steep the comfrey leaves in water like the other liquid fertilizers then dilute down. In Utah, it is too dry to make comfrey fertilizer how my family taught me above (it’s a lot wetter in England!) so I use the steep in water method.

In summer, it takes about 2 weeks for the comfrey in water to be ready to use.

Comfrey leaves make a great addition to the compost heap by acting as an activator.

Manure Liquid Fertilizer

Take a mesh or net bag and place in it some manure. One piece of horse manure is enough for 10 gallons of water. Let the manure steep in the water, use a wire clothes hanger to hook the bag onto the side of the container.

After 4-8 weeks, the manure can be added to the compost heap once the water has been strained into containers or bottles.

Horse, sheep, goat, donkey, chicken, rabbit and duck manure can all be used in this way.  Don't use dog or cat manure as this can harbor diseases and pathogens which can be passed to humans.  You can also use compost or worm castings in the same way if you don't have access to manure.

To use place about 1/3 cup of the feed in a 2 gallon watering can and fill with water.

Handy Tips

• A mesh bag such as those citrus fruit, onions or sweet potatoes come in can be used to contain the plants or manure in the water. You can also use hessian or burlap to make a bag or container. Using a bag will reduce the particulates in the fertilizer when you want to use it.

• An old sieve or colander works well to strain the bits out.

• Don’t use the rose on your watering can when feeding as this may get clogged with debris from the liquid fertilizer.

• You can make these fertilizers in winter to use in the spring, they will take longer to breakdown and can take up to 6 weeks before they are ready for use.

• Periodically open the containers to let any gases escape to reduce the risk of exploding bottles of liquid fertilizer.

• Variety is the spice of life so they say! Feel free to add in other decomposable materials to boost your liquid feeds. One of the best feeds I made had soiled bedding from the coop, feathers, crab shells, rockdust, weeds and dried kelp in it. The benefit of adding different things to the fertilizer is that you will get a better variety or macro and micro-nutrients and trace elements which your plants will benefit from.

• If you find that the quantities for diluting are not improving your plants much, experiment with adding a little more and seeing what you’re crops respond best to.

• You can use an aquarium pump in the water you are steeping the plants or manure in to improve the microbial quality in the resulting feed but it isn’t necessary.

Fertilized Plants

I love experimenting with the recipe for my homemade fertilizers and the knowledge that they are completely organic. If you want more colourful, vibrant plants and better harvests; I urge you to give it a try and see if you notice the difference too.

Emma Raven has been gardening, cooking, canning and home brewing for most of her life. Formulation scientist, blogger, home brewer and avid gardener. Born in a village on the northern east coast of England, she now calls the Wasatch Mountains of Utah home. Find Emma at Misfit Gardening, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Late-Summer Tomato Variety and Pepper Review

A magnificent swallowtail butterfly greeted me as I entered my backyard for watering today. This was such a nice gift from nature on what might be the hottest day of the month. Each year is different in my little veggie patch out back. As the summer heat fades, some plants in my garden are refreshed and sport new growth while other plants wither and die.

This year, an addition to my gardening routine was the arrival of Sophie, a 9-week-old German shepherd pup on July 9th. I placed a tie-down close to my garden so I could watch her while I watered, weeded, and harvested. As time went on, I let Sophie in the fenced-in part of the garden with me. She would stay out of my raised beds most of the time, and we had fun weeding together. I’d pull the weeds and toss them to her for inspection. It was big fun for both of us.

sophie waiting for a tomato

Now that we are into the month of September, much is changing in the veggie patch. Most of my cucumbers are done and browned leaves show where they thrived for July and August. Several times, I would find very large cucumbers that hid from view. These were perfect for Chilled Cucumber Soup.

I also had a good run of green beans of the bush variety. They are now long gone and the pole beans have just started producing well this week. Whenever I pick the green beans, I toss one to Sophie who loves chewing on them and it keeps her occupied for 5 minutes or so. If you have never tried giving your dog green beans, it’s worth a try. A friend of mine who is a holistic veterinarian told me they are good for dogs.

'Juliet' Tomatoes for Late-Summer Harvest

Most of my tomatoes did great this year. My favorites were the 'Cherokee Purple', 'Brandywine', and 'Juliet'. The only ones still producing are the 'Goliath Cluster' and 'Juliet'.

Strange but good, the 'Juliet' has come alive in my along-the-driveway plot and is as healthy-looking as a tomato plant can be. This plant did almost nothing all summer and now looks poised to enter the State Fair best tomato contest. I pick a few each day but see dozens growing rapidly. These late bloomers are bigger and tastier than previous 'Juliets' in July and August.

Juliet plant

A large Juliet tomato plant.

Sophie loves the 'Juliets' and it’s a good thing that tomatoes are safe to give a dog. Tomato leaves are not good for dogs and reported to be toxic. When I’m not looking, she will quickly sniff out, grab, and eat any 'Juliet' tomatoes within her reach. I don’t mind her getting one per day, but the rest are mine!

Tomato Hornworms

Speaking of tomatoes, I’m watching a hornworm that has a host of parasitic wasps eggs growing daily on the back of the hapless hornworm, aka tomato destroyer. I learned two years ago from the plant and garden hotline folks to let these hornworms live so the wasp eggs can hatch.

I have watched a few of these afflicted hornworms over the last two years hoping to see the emergence of the baby wasps, but to no avail. Maybe they hatch at night. I’ll keep watching as these eggs develop and I might get lucky and see what the eggs look like when hatched?

hornworm with wasp eggs

The dreaded hornworm.

Bring On the Heat

Another star of the late summer has been a jalapeño in one of my Earth Boxes®. This and its neighbor, a 'shishito' pepper, have been putting out more peppers than I can eat. My Earth Boxes usually out-perform the other two plots and I’d use more of them if I didn’t have the raised beds.

I’ve been putting excess jalapeños in salsa and stir fry dishes for a blast of good heat. This makes me feel cooler on days like today when the heat index will hit 100 degrees or so. Just bite a hot pepper and the ambient temperature goes down!

Sept harvest

A small but tasty harvest.

At the end of my garden rounds, I scored several green beans, one tiny watermelon — it was supposed to be big, a couple of cluster tomatoes, a yellow squash, two cukes, and several 'Juliets'. Sophie got a green bean and two 'Juliets' for her contributions. With a little luck and cooler weather, I hope to be picking good stuff for another two months, but you never know with weather and puppies. Wish me luck.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his fourth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening and is volunteering at Wilbur’s Farm in Kingsville, Maryland, to learn real organic gardening. For this and other recipes using garden greens, and more fresh veggies check out his food blog. For tasty travel ideas check out Kurt's travel blog, Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Grow Butternut Squash from Seed

Photo by Flickr/missbossy

Butternut squash is one of the many different kinds of winter squash such as pumpkin. Characterized by a distinctive pale yellow color and a pear-shaped fruit, the squash is a valuable crop with high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. In particular, it’s relatively high in beta-carotene (characterized by firm orange flesh), which is converted by the body into Vitamin A.

Butternut squash is relatively easy to grow. Its growing season begins during summer for harvest in autumn. This means that the soil should be well warmed by the sun, approximately 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (15-18 C) at a 4-inch depth. The warm temperature is extremely crucial because butternut squash plants are tender and the seedlings will basically freeze with the slightest frost and seeds will only germinate in warm soil.

Sowing Squash Seeds and Transplanting

Butternut squash seeds will only germinate in warm soil, so it’s best to plant through summer. The butternut growing season is approximately 110-120 days for fruit maturation. Thus, if your season is a bit short, you can start the seeds indoors and direct them outside once the weather warms up. However, you need to do so before the last frost in your region. The seeds are relatively easy to sow and won’t take up much of your time or energy.

• Make planting pockets, approximately 3 feet apart. Do this by making a hole about your garden spade’s depth, width, and height.

• Fill the holes with a mixture of compost or well rotted manure and soil and sprinkle fertilizer over the soil. Use a small tiller to turn the soil and mix in compost and fertilizer. The soil should be amended and fertilized as butternut squash plants are heavy feeders.

• Plant one plant on top of each planting pocket, approximately 1 inch deep and cover with soil.

• Water the plants gently with a watering can or spray with a garden hose.

Photo by Flickr/SummerAndStephen

Planting Squash Seeds Directly in the Garden

If you are planning to put seeds straight to the garden, be sure to plant them the same time as you would put out the transplants. The ideal space for growing the plants is a hilly part of the garden and so if your garden has several small hills, plant 4 or 5 seeds on each hill.

After they sprout, thin down to 2 or 3 plants. The reason for taking out some plants is because butternut squash takes up much space as they produce extensive vines and might seem overcrowded if more than 3 seeds are planted in a small space.

Growing Butternut Squash in a Pot

If you do not have a kitchen garden and really want to have some butternut squash growing around the house, well, you can use a pot. However, you should know that not all butternut squash varieties are ideal for container gardening.

Trailing varieties are best grown in gardens while compact bush varieties such as ‘Barbara’ do quite well in pots. Use the largest pots you can find, say, those with a minimum of 18 inches diameter and just as deep.

• Prepare the soil by adding well-rotted compost and fertilizer. Mix well.

• Place the plants 1 inch deep in the pots and cover well with soil.

• Water gently with a watering can or a gentle spray of a hose immediately after planting. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy.

Caring for Butternut Squash Plants

When taken care of properly, healthy butternut squash can grow a lot bigger. Regular feeding is crucial as it will produce the most abundant crops. Here are some tips for caring for butternut squash.

Water regularly. Butternut squash plants are heavy feeders and drinkers too. So you need to provide them with adequate water throughout their growth period up to maturity. Watering will prevent the plants and compost from drying out.

Spray the plant gently with a garden hose or a watering can. Don’t put too much water as the soil will become soggy, and too much water may cause stunted growth. Just put enough water to keep the soil moist. This is precisely why you need to water regularly, about three times a week. If the weather is hot, make it four times a week.

Note that you should water the base of the plants rather than the leaves to prevent sunburn or powdery mildew.

Fertilize. Fertilize the plants throughout the growing season. Putting adequate fertilizer will produce a bumpy harvest for sure.

After the first fruits start to swell, feed the plants with high-potash liquid fertilizer for squash every 10-14 days.

Cultivation. In a few weeks, weeds will have started growing. You need to get rid of them before they start sucking all the nutrients from the soil. Cultivation should be done by hand or with a hoe. Do not cultivate too deeply to avoid damaging the roots — butternut roots are quite shallow.

Keep the bugs and diseases away. Healthy butternut squash can give you a good harvest, but only if you take proper care of the plants. Like many other plants, butternut squash is susceptible to pests and diseases. If you want a bumpy harvest, then you’ve got to keep the bugs and diseases off your plants.

The leaves can be attacked by squash bugs as well as striped cucumber beetles. Thoroughly inspect your plants for these bugs before they cause extensive harm. You will need to spray them on a regular basis with a pesticide to get rid of them.

Also, pay close attention to powdery mildew, another common threat to the butternut squash plant.

Photo by Ula Gillion

How to Harvest Butternut Squash

The squash will be ready for harvesting when the skin becomes hard and is extremely difficult to pierce with your thumbnail. Waiting for the skin to harden is important, because the squash can be stored for months without going bad.

• Harvest the squash before the first frost of the season. Do not wait too long to harvest as they might rot too quickly if they get exposed to frost.

• Cut the squash from the vines and leave a few inches of the stem intact. The stem prevents the squash from rotting fast.

• Store the inside right away — if you need to store them for a longer time, you can leave them outside to “cure” for a couple of afternoons.

• Store in cool, dry place.

Butternut squash is a valuable crop for eating during cold winter months. There are numerous recipes you can use to make incredibly delicious meals. They are even great for soups. They can either be boiled or roasted and are a great substitute for pumpkin in pie.

Ann Katelyn is a homesteader in Alabama whohas dedicated most of her life to gardening and botanical study with growing interests ranging from the popular, world-class roses to the rarest and most exotic orchids. She is currently trying her best to become well versed on plants found in desert areas, the tropics, and Mediterranean region. Connect with Ann on Twitter and her website, Sumo Gardener.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Top 10 Benefits of Raised Garden Beds

There are a lot of beneficial properties that traditional direct dug garden beds cannot typically provide that a raised garden bed can. A raised garden bed can be more beneficial to your plants, to the environment, and more importantly, to you.

Raised Garden Beds

So let’s dig in deeper to my personal top 10 benefits to utilizing raised garden beds on your homestead.

Top 10 Benefits to Raised Garden Beds

Good Aeration – Your plant’s roots need to be able to breathe. When your soil is too compacted, the roots do not get the proper air circulation which will not allow them develop properly. Aeration is necessary for the roots to be able to absorb essential nutrients; pockets of air in the soil help hold in the nitrogen which is converted into beneficial nitrates by the soil bacteria, making it available to the plant to feed upon.

Root Spread – They need room to grow. We have already stated that good aeration is important for any plant and its roots; in the same manner, the raised garden beds soil is looser than traditional direct dug beds which allows for your plant’s root system to extend further with less effort than that of a tradition bed.

Amending your Soil – Feed that which feeds you. Adding amendments to your soil has never been easier than doing it to a raised garden bed, due to the fact that you will have a potentially smaller area to be able to calculate how much of the amendments you will need. Additionally, because your soil is not compacted you have a far lesser chance of your amendments getting washed away and wasted in areas of the garden that you do not need it.

Save Seeds – Plant only what you need. In a traditional direct dug garden, you typically sow your seeds in a line and then thin the plants as they grow, this wastes valuable seeds. Utilizing a raised garden bed you will only plant what you need, therefore saving the extra seeds for another year’s cycle and in turn saving you money.

Higher Yields – The more the better. The soil in a raised bed can be healthier than that of a direct dug bed for the reasons stated above and more. Because of the sometimes healthier soil, it allows for your plants to grow more vigorously and healthier than what you may typically find in a direct-dug bed. Being able to have a healthier soil due to more precise soil management practices, in turn helps to create healthier plants which then leads to a higher yield of crops during the harvesting seasons.

Utilizing raised beds in your garden is a fantastic way to help feed yourself and your homestead with much less time and work from you. By utilizing a raised bed garden, you will save yourself from at least some of the physical demands of running a homestead; save yourself some money with less watering, waste and achieve better results for yourself and your plants.

I would love to hear from you on your experiences using raised garden beds, please leave me a comment below.

Shane Floyd has been passionate about homesteading and sustainable living for more than 40 years. Now located in Oklahoma, he is using his experiences and passion to create his own sustainable homestead on 7 acres of land, using the same principles and ideals of his ancestors with a modern-day twist. Read about his adventures on the Floyd Family Homestead websiteor connect with Shane on FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestInstagramYoutubeand Amazon.

Read all of Shane's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Your Own Natural Liquid Fertilizers: Seaweed and 'Gardener's Revenge' Recipes

I longed for huge pumpkins for Halloween, tall sunflowers and plentiful chili and tomato plants, and I found that even with repeated mulching throughout the season, my plants were missing a boost of nutrients, so I made my own natural liquid feeds or fertilizers.

Now, I have sunflowers nearly 15 feet tall, tomatoes ripening nicely, three repeat harvests of chili peppers, squash and pumpkin harvests which don’t seem to stop as well as luscious peaches the size of baseballs, and not to mention, numerous crops of broccoli which are on a cut-and-come-again rotation!

Garden with natural fertilizer

The growth was astounding in a short space of time and in this post I would like to share with you step by step how to make your own liquid fertilizers.

Making your own liquid fertilizers is incredibly easy, super thrifty, less wasteful and you will be able to see the benefits very quickly.

To make the recipes below you will need the following equipment:

• Bucket
• Water
• Stick to stir
• Old jars or bottles to store the liquid

Tips for Using Homemade Fertilizers

Try to use a container which can be covered to reduce the risk of mosquitoes laying eggs and their larvae thriving in the stagnant water.

Water the plants first before feeding with the fertilizers to ensure plants take up the appropriate amount and to reduce salt-burns.

There are lots of things you can use to make your own natural fertilizers which you may have already in your garden or homestead.

Items to make fertilizer

1. The chickens are a leading contributor to my fertilizer with their manure, 2. Bedding from the coop, feathers and all the bits of greens and everything else they didn’t eat can all be used, 3. Weeds, 4. Grass clippings, 5. Seaweed meal.

Below are some recipe guidelines for you to create your own liquid feeds to use in your vegetable garden.

A word of caution however, these smell terrible!

'Gardener's Revenge' Liquid Fertilizer

Perennial weeds should not be placed into the compost heap unless you know that you will get the heap to heat up enough to kill the weed and any seeds.  You can however, drown the weeds then place them in the compost heap so nothing is wasted. 

I think this is the easiest liquid fertilizer to make since it only requires enough weeds to fill the bucket.

collecting weeds

Filling the bucket with pesky weeds.

• Fill your bucket with at least 1/2 way with weeds. I fill a 5 gallon bucket all the way with a variety of weeds including foxtail grass, fat hen, pig weed, couch grass, bindweed and some unknown weeds which sprout up over and over again.  I add in everything, roots, flowers, leaves etc.

• Chop them up a bit using garden shears or pruners for faster decomposition then cover with water.  Rainwater is ideal but tap water should be fine; there is some debate about using tap water and the general consensus seems to be to allow the chlorine to dissipate 24 hours before using.  I use the secondary water from my city which isn’t treated.

• After 2-4 weeks, the weeds should be sludgy and when the water is disturbed, a pungent (ok, extremely bad) smell released.

• The water should be drained off into bottles or containers and labelled with the contents.

• To use, dilute around 1/4 to 1/2 cup in 2 gallon watering can for general watering.  If using as a foliar feed, reduce the quantity to around 2 table spoons to a gallon of water to avoid leaf-burn.

• If the smell does become a bit overpowering, water the plants and garden afterwards and the smell will dissipate. I try to feed the plants on a windy day so it doesn’t settle and disturb the neighbors too much.

• The sludgy weeds can now be placed on the compost pile, these also smell terrible so put them amongst other layers or place layers straight on top.

Seaweed Liquid Fertilizer

Another easy fertilizer to make.  You will need some fresh or dried seaweed.  If you live on the coast, it is easy to forage for seaweed, particularly after a storm.

Check with local regulations to make sure you can forage in your area and research protected species so you don't accidentally take something which is protected.

Foraging for seaweed

Flamborough Head, East Coast of England

If you are using fresh seaweed, wash the salt off by thoroughly rinsing with plenty of water then place in the bucket and top up with water and cover.  You will want as much seaweed as the bucket can hold and equal amounts of water.  It's ok to use different varieties of seaweed.

1. Leave for at least 8 weeks for the seaweed to start rotting down, stir the concoction every few days. The longer you leave the seaweed in the water, the better it is.

2. Drain off the liquid into bottles or containers and label them. The seaweed makes a wonderful addition to the compost pile or can be used as a mulch around plants, in containers or spread on the vegetable bed.

3. To use, dilute around 1/4 - 1/2 cup in 2-gallon watering can for general watering. If using as a foliar feed, reduce the quantity to around 2 table spoons to a gallon of water to avoid leaf-burn.

You could also use dried seaweed meal if you live in a landlocked location. Seaweed meals do vary, so you should experiment with the amount of seaweed meal to water, I would start at 2-3 cups in a 10-quart bucket.

Learn more recipes for natural fertilizers you can make at home in Part 2 of this post coming up.

Emma Raven has been gardening, cooking, canning and home brewing for most of her life. Formulation scientist, blogger, home brewer and avid gardener. Born in a village on the northern east coast of England, she now calls the Wasatch Mountains of Utah home. Find Emma at Misfit Gardening, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Make Sorghum Syrup and Market Sorghum Products (with Video)

Click here to read an earlier post about how to grow and harvest sorghum, including where to find seed.

You can use the cane mill if you have one. Those are hard to come by now if you're just looking to buy one. We heard of one that was sold for $700. The old ones were set up to use a horse or mule to turn the mill which would grind the cane stalks. Now, some of the mills are set-up to run by tractor. So, using a cane mill you would also need a horse or tractor to operate. This is expensive equipment for someone just starting out or just having a "backyard" crop.

Alan and I thought up another way of juicing the cane. It is all-manual but it gets the job done. We found an old "wringer-type" rollers that were used on wringer washing machines and we bolted to a metal stand. Always be aware you are working with a food product and apply food safety rules. We made sure the rollers were sterilized before using. The stalks can be crushed first with a meat tenderizer and then run through the wringers!

This works great. A  container is set below  the rollers to collect the juice as it comes out. To prepare the cane stalks for juicing, we strip the leaves (which is fed to the goats in small amounts), the seed heads are cut off and put in boxes to be dried later for grinding into flour. We cut the stalks in 2- to 3-foot lengths to make handling easier. Then, run through the wringers.

Here is a short clip of Alan "juicing" sorghum/cane:

If there is a lot of juice coming out we’ll put those through again. It takes approximately 30-40 stalks to get 1 gallon of raw fresh juice. For those that are interested in selling fresh juice to restaurants or other markets there are juicing machines but they are very expensive.

There are a lot of health benefits to the raw fresh juice so this could become a unique crop and market! If you are looking for an Agritourism angle to your farm this could be a possibility.

How to Process Sorghum Juice

After juicing the liquid must be strained. We use a colander and linen or cheese cloth. There is grit that comes out and other debris from the stalks. Refrigerate immediately unless going straight to your market or to be cooked.

Straining sorghum juice

sorghum juice

This juice is considered “raw” fresh sorghum cane juice. The juice needs to be processed immediately. It will spoil in 7 days. To combat that, you can freeze the juice if not using right away.

Another option is to pasteurize (boil) and can. When working with any food product that is to be sold to the public, make sure you follow all state and county requirements. Each state is different when requiring license and permits. Some states require special equipment if pasteurizing. Most states require a certified kitchen be used. Not all states require this when working with maple sap, sorghum and honey.

Search out markets for your product. Call up restaurants and ask if they would be interested in your product. Specialty (fine dining) restaurants are becoming very competitive and are always looking for something new. We sell the fresh juice for $30.00/gallon.

bottled sorghum juice

Making Sorghum Molasses/Syrup

For making molasses, some people call this syrup, we use a wood fire. Our cooking method is very rustic and basic — more or less a pit fire. We don’t make large batches of molasses. We can’t be competitive with the molasses market because there are too many farms in our area that are making them commercially. That’s why we search out other value-added ways to market.

Again, you need about 10 gallons of fresh juice to cook down to about 1 gallon syrup/molasses. Cooking with wood is more economical for us because we save “scrap” wood that falls from dead trees and other branches we can collect. Electric can be used but, it can be expensive if you’re not working up a lot of juice. Equipment can be very expensive unless this is going to be a large venture. One thing you might want to check into is your local Cooperative Extension Agency. They often have Commercial/Certified kitchens with some of this equipment and kitchen time available at a small fee.

We never use propane. The fumes can give an “off” taste to your product.

When starting to cook the juice we use stainless steel stockpots. Always use stainless steel with any cooking. This cooking is a slow process because you want to reach a certain slow boil and keep it continuous. 10 gallons can take 10-12 hours at least of cooking.

Since the sorghum juice is “sugar,” you don’t want a hot, rapid boil it can scortch/burn and cause the molasses to have an “off” taste. The syrup/molasses will begin to thicken and turn a dark color. Be aware some varieties of sorghum will still have a “greenish” hue when it is done. When you think your molasses are ready ladle into sterilized jars.

cooking sorghum juice 

Using Sorghum Seed Heads

There are several ways to process your sorghum seed heads. As I stated earlier, when removing the seed heads, put in boxes until drying and processing. These seed heads are grain so, care must be taken in making sure they are mature and dry before using. They can be spread out on screens and left to dry in the sun or in covered areas.

They can also be bundled and hung from rafters/beams like hanging corn. After drying the seeds will darken in color — don’t use any that appear “green” if using in making flour.

seed heads

To use in flour making the seeds must first be thrashed. If you have a grain thrasher that is great. We use the “hand thrashing” method. Very simply, we take the seed heads and hit them over the inside of a container and the seeds loosen and fall into the container.

After you have your loosened seeds put those in a fine sieve — this separates out the chaff and other debris. The “cleaned” seed can now be put into a blender, food processor or mill. Grind to a fine flour. This flour will be gluten-free.

Again, if you are going to sell this product to the public make sure you abide by the food safety, state and county rules and regulations.

You can also take this flour, if you only have a small amount, and use in “Specialty” value-added products such as baked goods. You could market to the needs of “gluten-free” individuals. Also, bakeries would love to buy this specialty, local product. Ideas are limitless!

Don’t want to go the route of making flour? You could sell the seeds to bakeries for them to grind themselves OR sell the seed. In our state we have to carry a “Seed Dealers” license to sell the seed. Also, since this is a grain, if being sold as food you may be required by your state to have it tested for Aflotoxin.

Selling Sorghum Directly from the Field

Want less “hands on” from your specialty crop? That is also an option. Selling from the field.

We have a local brewery, Fonta Flora Brewery, who is determined to use local ingredients and in so doing help the farmers. We are very grateful they have chosen our small farm to work with. They came out to the farm and cut their own sorghum cane to use in their specialty beer. Not only did they use the “cane” juice, but also roasted the seed heads and used some of our Bloody Butcher corn.

They called this mixture "Bloody Butcher Appalachian Grisette."

When selling from the field and in bulk, you can offer your customers a discount on the product. We sell the stalk (with seed head) from the field at 50 cents per stalk.

There’s almost no waste in this product. Since this is in the same family as broomcorn, the “stems” of the seed heads (after thrashing) can be fashioned into brooms OR used as “scrubbers” for your dishes! The spent canes, called "bagasse," can be given to livestock to eat (see video above).

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Heat-Tolerant Eggplant Varieties


'Nadia' Egglpant

'Nadia' Eggplant Variety: Not So Good with Heat

Leading up to 2012, we had tried lots of different eggplants for yield and flavor, finally settling on Nadia as our favorite. The summer of 2012 was hot, and we discovered 'Nadia' eggplant has trouble setting fruit in hot weather. How hot are we talking about? We're in central Virginia, winter plant hardiness Zone 7a, and AHS heat Zone 7.

You can access state heat zone maps and a key to the zones here. There are 12 zones on the map, indicating the average number of days each year that each region has "heat days" – those with temperatures over 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30C). That is the temperature at which plants start to suffer physiological damage from the heat.

Heat Zone 1 has only 1 day each year above 86 degrees F. Zone 5 has 30 to 45 days, Zone 6 has 45 to 60 days, Zone 7 has 60-90 days above 86 degrees F. Well, quite a few were a deal hotter than 86F. Personally, I find a big difference between days over 90F and those over 95F.

We were disappointed to have to go back to the drawing board to find a variety with better heat tolerance. With climate change rolling in, we decided it really would be wise to prepare for more hot summers and trial some heat-tolerant eggplant varieties. We ruled out unusual shapes and colors, because what we have a demand for is the classic "teardrop oval" eggplant shape in classic purple-black.

2016 is our fourth year of trials and the first summer that actually had some very hot days. We have joked that we can keep hot summers at bay by doing heat-tolerance eggplant trials! You can read our year-by-year accounts on my blog, Sustainable Market Farming.


'Epic' Eggplant

'Nadia', 'Epic', 'Traviata', and 'Florida Highbush' Eggplant Yields Compared in 2012

In 2013, we compared 'Nadia' with 'Epic', 'Traviata', and the open-pollinated 'Florida Highbush'. We counted fruit harvested from each variety but didn’t weigh them.

'Traviata' yielded well, with an average of 7.3 fruits per plant, 'Florida Highbush' 6.3, 'Nadia' 6.1 and 'Epic' only 4.4.

We’d planted the 'Epic' at the dry, stony end of the bed and wondered if that had affected yields. As we found out in 2014, it certainly had! We thought that 'Florida Highbush' had smaller fruit, but we weren’t sure, as we hadn't weighed them. We decided to do that the next year.


'Traviata' Eggplant

Comparing Eggplants for Size by Weighing as Well as Counting in 2014

In 2014, we grew the same four varieties and this time recorded the weight of each harvest as well as the number of fruit of each variety. That year we got better results all round: 'Nadia' gave 13.4 fruits per plant, 'Epic' 12.5, 'Traviata' 11.7 and 'Florida Highbush' lagged behind with 6.8 fruits per plant.

We forgot to write down which variety was at the dry, stony end that year! We discovered that the size and weight of each fruit was very similar for all four varieties, varying only from 'Epic’s' average of 0.61 lbs per fruit to 'Traviata’s' 0.64 lbs per fruit. In case you're curious, we got a total of 927 eggplants, weighing in at 582 lbs – an average of 0.63 lbs each.

Adding 'Florida Market' Open-Pollinated Eggplant in 2015

In 2015 we tested the same four varieties again, along with another reputedly heat-tolerant open-pollinated variety, 'Florida Market', which turned out to have visibly smaller and rounder fruits.

'Florida Market' had a lower yield. Unscientifically, it was at the unfairly dry and stony end, but it did so poorly compared to the others, that we scratched it from future trials.

In 2015, 'Epic' did best, both in number of fruit/plant (10.7) and weight/fruit (0.77 lbs). Good thing we didn’t give up on it after growing it in the gravel in 2013!

'Traviata' produced 8.9 fruits/plant, 'Florida Highbush' 8.2, Nadia only 8.0 (we got a high rate of culls too), and 'Florida Market' only 7.5 (small fruits at that). We got a total of 812 eggplants in 2015, weighing 564 lbs, a slightly higher weight average than 2014, at 0.7 lbs. Our eggplant harvest peaked on August 19.

Comparing 'Nadia', 'Traviata' and 'Epic' Eggplants for Yield, Size and Cull Rate in 2016

For 2016, we decided to grow only 'Nadia', 'Traviata' and 'Epic', and to plant the same number of each, to make our lives simpler. Our first eggplant harvest was 7/18. At the end of July, the 26 'Nadia' plants had produced 31 eggplants, the 26 'Traviata' 30, and the 26 'Epic' yielded most at 73!

The 'Epic' were largest too, at 0.9 lbs/fruit ('Nadia' 0.8, 'Traviata' 0.7 lbs). The numbers include commercial culls, which we kindly call "Use First" and take to our kitchen. The cull rate of 'Traviata' was the highest.

Continuing through August, which has had some very hot days, 'Nadia' has produced 125 eggplants, averaging 0.76 pounds each; 'Traviata' 124 averaging 0.72 pounds; and 'Epic' a staggering 287, averaging 0.9 pounds each. The cull rate for 'Epic' was 22%, for 'Traviata' 29%, and for 'Nadia' 21%.

'Traviata' had one particularly bad day for culls. At the end of the season I'll try to correlate the full season's results with the weather data. Check back in November, here or at Sustainable Market Farming.

Photos by Nina Gentle (Epic and Traviata) and Kathryn Simmons (Nadia).”

Pam Dawling manages the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store and at Sustainable Market Farming. Pam's blog is on her website and also on Facebook, and you can read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.