Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I don't mean to scare you, but if you want to have a crop of sorghum it needs to be planted NOW!! I have been behind this year, but hope to have sorghum to squeeze and cook come this fall.
Anytime through the month of June, at least in my location in the Ozarks of Missouri, sorghum can be planted. I would even say that if willing to take the risk of an early frost ruining the crop (two weeks into October), it can be planted into the first couple of weeks of July.
The sorghum cane seems to thrive in hot dry weather as long as it gets a good start. We have been facing an early summer drought here and are in painful need of rain. A mid June planting of cane is preferred, which I did, but the rows were very skippy so I disced it up and just replanted it two days ago. I am hoping to get a good stand that will be adequate for a good amount of juice to cook off in the fall.
The cane can be grown, spaced and fertilized similar to corn. I have found that five or six, 125 foot rows can produce up to 50 gallons of juice that will cook down into approximately 5 gallons of syrup. Thinning the canes six inches apart will help them to grow larger in diameter and height making for sturdy canes that are able to withstand strong wind. I would also discourage heavy watering for the same reason; shallow roots make these tall canes easier to blow over as well. One year I didn't thin out the crop like I should have and some heavy winds blew the canes in every direction. It was a huge mess and we were unable to do anything but pile and burn them that winter. It was both an unnavigable disaster and an entire crop loss. Thinning will also enable canes to grow to their potential, creating a better harvest of full sized canes, rather than harvesting more lean, leggy canes.
I am fortunate to have enough Sugar Drip sorghum seed to share. If you are interested in growing some, please comment below, and I will get in touch with you. I tried Sugar Drip last year and was pleased with the flavor of the sorghum it produced.
If you are growing sorghum and it is a new skill for you, search out older friends that may have grown up in the country. This was a common annual event in many communities. It is a lot of fun to hear the sorghum making stories and see what they remembered of it when they were kids. I am sorry to say that as time moves on we are losing more and more of our old sorghum makers. They know and remember bits and pieces that are helpful. It is good to hear about different designs of evaporator pans, skimming tools, how long it was cooked, along with how their family used it or traded with it. A longtime sorghum making friend of our family died this spring, he enjoyed those old time traditions a great deal and he will be sorely missed at the sorghum making this fall. Please cherish their memories while they are here, and if you do have stories and skills to share, Mother Earth News now has a blog dedicated to that.
So, don't hesitate and get that sorghum in the ground! Then, let it grow all summer into tall 7-10 foot canes with bright red seeded heads and stalks full of sugar! Good luck!
I do not have much information about when to grow sorghum in other parts of the country. If you are a sorghum grower, and can leave a comment with information on when you plant and harvest sorghum that information may be helpful to someone. Please also share what variety of sorghum you prefer to grow. Thank you!
photo credit: Noah and Caleb rubbing seeds out of the mature sorghum heads for planting