The Versatility of Sorghum: From Grain to Broom Corn

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Video how to plant sorghum

If you’re an avid gardener or interested in growing your own crops, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is a versatile and fascinating member of the grass family that you should consider adding to your garden. It can be grown for various purposes, including grain production, crafting, or processing into sorghum syrup. What makes sorghum even more appealing is its ease of cultivation, comparable to that of corn. Let’s delve into the world of sorghum and explore its different types and growing techniques.

Understanding the Types of Sorghum

To choose the best sorghum varieties for your needs, it’s crucial to understand the three main types of sorghum:

Grain Sorghum: More Than Just a Cereal

Grain sorghum, also known as milo, is a type of sorghum that produces tall panicles adorned with small, round seeds in late summer. The grains can be ground into fresh flour or popped like popcorn in the case of specific varieties like ‘Tarahumara.’ Additionally, cracked grain sorghum makes excellent animal feed. Its versatility and nutritional value make it an appealing choice for those who value self-sufficiency.

Sweet Sorghum: The Sweetness of Nature

Sweet sorghum, also referred to as cane sorghum, is cultivated primarily for its sweet juice extracted from its tall stalks. Varieties such as ‘Dale’ thrive in a variety of climates, while heirloom options like ‘Sugar Drip’ or ‘Rox Orange’ offer unique flavor profiles. Whether you want to create your own natural sweetener or experiment with new recipes, sweet sorghum provides a delightful and sustainable alternative to processed sugars.

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Broom Corn: Nature’s Broomstick

Another intriguing type of sorghum is broom corn, characterized by sturdy straws that hold the seeds. These straws are perfect for creating stylish brooms or can be used in dried flower arrangements, adding an elegant touch to your home decor. With different seed colors such as black, red, orange, or white, broom corn not only serves a practical purpose but also captivates the eye and palate of chickens and other animals.

Planting Sorghum: Timing is Everything

Sorghum requires warm soil to germinate and flourish, which is why it’s typically planted in late May or early June, even in warmer climates. Prepare the soil as you would for corn, ensuring a well-balanced organic fertilizer mix is incorporated before planting. Unlike corn, sorghum is self-fertile, meaning you don’t need a large plot for pollination purposes. Sow the seeds half an inch deep and four inches apart, thinning them to eight inches apart when the seedlings reach four inches in height. For personalized planting recommendations, consider trying our Vegetable Garden Planner.

Cultivating Sorghum: Taming the Weeds

To ensure healthy growth, it’s crucial to control weed infestations until the sorghum plants are large enough to dominate their immediate environment. Approximately six weeks after planting, invigorate new growth by drenching the sorghum with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer. While many grain sorghum varieties grow up to only five feet tall, sweet sorghum and broom corn varieties can reach impressive heights of up to eight feet, creating an eye-catching addition to your garden landscape.

Harvesting and Storage: The Fruits of Your Labor

Similar to corn, sorghum goes through an immature “milk” stage, indicated by a pierced kernel that releases a milk-like juice. For sweet sorghum, harvesting takes place approximately two weeks after the milk stage. Cut the canes at ground level, remove the leaves, and set aside the green canes. The extracted juice is then carefully cooked into sorghum syrup, while the barely-mature seeds can be used to feed animals or cooked and enjoyed as whole grains.

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Grain sorghum and broom corn, on the other hand, are harvested later when the seeds have fully matured, featuring hard, glossy seed coats. To harvest grain sorghum, cut off the seed clusters, leaving a few inches of stalk attached. Dry the seed heads in a warm, well-ventilated area for at least a week. Finally, roll the dried seed heads over a hardware cloth screen to separate the seeds from plant debris, and store your processed harvest in the freezer. Broom corn stalks should be cut when the seeds are hard and the plants start to decline. Allow the stalks to dry in small bunches, and let your creativity run wild as you craft unique decorations.

Propagating Sorghum: Ensuring the Circle of Life

To ensure a continuous harvest in subsequent years, select vigorous plants during summer for seed production. Throughout the season, provide these chosen plants with adequate nourishment and water. During a period of dry weather in the fall, select the largest seeds produced by these plants and save them for replanting. This practice guarantees a cycle of growth and the preservation of desirable traits for future sorghum crops.

Sorghum, with its various types and applications, offers an exciting and rewarding experience for gardening enthusiasts. Whether you’re drawn to the nutritional benefits of grain sorghum, the sweet juiciness of cane sorghum, or the artistic potential of broom corn, sorghum cultivation provides a wealth of opportunities. So, why not embark on this horticultural journey and explore the multifaceted world of sorghum?

Ames Farm Center

Ames Farm Center is your trusted source for all your sorghum needs. Visit their website here to discover a wide range of high-quality sorghum products, expert advice, and more.

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