Planting and Growing

Climate for Sweet Sorghum: In general, the forage/sweet sorghums thrive in areas that are more humid than those for which grain sorghums are specialized. Tennessee and Kentucky are leading sorghum syrup states. It is said that the most southern-grown sorghum, i.e., the longest-to-maturity varieties, are the best; but good sorghum can actually be grown over a wide area of the South and Midwest. Even here in our lowland Idaho valley, a neighbor raised a crop of sweet sorghum and made syrup! But do experiment with the longest-to-maturity varieties that you can grow in your particular area, because those should produce the best sorghum syrup. Raymond Weaver, a professional sorghum maker from Sale Creek, TN, wrote me, "Dear Carla: I specialize in sorghum, so quite naturally I checked out your article and seems like the most helpful thing I could do is give you some meat to go on those bones and some yardsticks to go by." On varieties, he said, "We planted Dale, one from the U. of Miss., and Honey Drip. We found Dale far superior to the other two." Getting Sweet Sorghum Seed: Seed is available from Park, Redwood City, and Shumway. Four varieties— Dale, M-81-E, Topper 76-6, and Thei's—can be ordered from the Agriculture Experiment Station, Mississippi State U., Box 9811, Mississippi State, MS 39762; 662-325-2390; msucares.com/crops/sorghum/descriptions.html. The next year, plant your own seed. All the varieties of sweet sorghum are naturally self-pollinated and easy to save seed from.

How Much to Plant: a few ounces will plant a 50 x 50-foot plot. The recommended seeding rate per acre is about 3 lb. Raymond says, "The standard is 100 gal. per acre. Yields of over 400 gal. have been recorded, though. If you can estimate the bushels of corn a piece of ground will produce, a good rule of thumb is 2 gal. syrup for each bushel of corn. Another rule of thumb is 1 gal. for each 100 feet of row (at 130 gal./acre). For the beginner, I recommend a plot 50 x 50 feet. This will give you enough to cut your teeth on, and you'll be glad you didn't get in any deeper (750 feet of row or lxh gal.)." HOW to plant: Sorghum does not come up well in cold ground. Plant 2 weeks after the last frost. Plant in hills or rows. The conventional wisdom is to plant 4 seeds to a hill with hills 18 inches distant, or plant in rows your best cultivating width apart, with plants 6 inch distant. Raymond adds, "Shake the seed into the row, letting it dribble out the side of your hand between thumb and index finger. You want a seed about every 2 inches. This will give you a good sure stand. When 1 inch high, thin to 6-8 inches apart and weed. It's really important not to have it too thick. A thinned stand gives you good big stalks. I remove my suckers (tillers) when cane is 24 inches high."

Continue reading here: Harvesting Stripping and Pressing

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