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Sorghum Syrup  RSS feed

 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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Sorghum is one of the top 5 most important grains in the world.  Most sorghum is referred to as Milo.  This is feed to livestock, you probably have some in your scratch grains which you feed to your chickens.  It is the round grain .  It can be and is often used for human food.  Ground into a flour it is gluten-free. 

I've already started some milo (not sweet sorghum) which I picked out of the scratch grains.  I grew the stuff by accident a few years ago from some grains the hens missed.  Thought I'd try it again with some effort behind the project, get some chicken feed out of the adventure.

Sweet sorghum looks and grows the same but has a considerably higher sugar content.  When mature, the stalks are crushed and squeezed to extract the juice.  The left over material, known as baggesse, can be fed to livestock as a rough silage, composted, dried to serve as fuel, or turned back into the soil.  The seed head is used for animal feed-my hens love it.  As far as I can tell from my research, no part of the plant is wasted.

The stalks can be cut by hand if need be.  I've got a scythe that would make easy work of the job.  The seed heads are removed and allowed to dry for feed use.  The stalks can dry for a few days, makes an easier job of boiling down the juice.

To squeeze the juice, a cane mill is the tool to use.  It has a couple of rollers which crush and squeeze the stalks with dozens of tons of pressure per square inch.  Its not like wringing out a towel to be sure, and keep your fingers out of there.

Once the juice is extracted, it needs to be boiled down to produce syrup.  The same equipment used for producing maple syrup will do the job.  It takes about 8 gallons of juice to produce a gallon of syrup.  An acre of sorghum, 20-80k plants, will produce 120-130 gallon of syrup. 

The stuff is sold in pints, quarts, gallons, and big giant tanks.  By the pint, $5-6 is common.  This puts an acre of syrup production at about $4800.  Without experience in this crop using my methods, these numbers are a rough guideline at best.  I might expect a premium price for All-Natural or Organic but what sort of results will my methods bring?  I've seen the stuff on shelves locally, but have not explored the market.

Sweet sorghum seed is available online.  For my area, the cultivar Dale looks like it would serve me well.  The plants fare well in dry conditions and need 120-130 days above freezing to mature.

Looking at the numbers found in several articles online, the plants are spaced about like corn and grow to 6-12' high.  A couple hundred plants should produce a quart of syrup.  This will fit in my yard in a couple hundred sqft.  If I can figure out a way to crush the stalks and extract the juice with the tools I have available, I can go ahead and try an experimental batch.  If the whole thing fails, I can at least feed the grain to the hens.

Before I go dropping a couple grand on a boiling arch and more on a cane mill, filter press, refractometer, and bottling gear, I want to see if the stuff is any good, what sort of production I can achieve, what it draws for bugs and pests, and even if the stuff will grow in this sandbar of a state. 

Being Florida, the growing season for the stuff would allow harvesting anywhere from July to November.  If I get good response from an early crop, There would be time to start another one if I had sufficient land available.  If it works for me, several plantings would be possible throughout the growing season.  Do a batch a month?

Another consideration, which was just a dream up north, is the use of the sun to boil off the syrup.  Running the stuff through tubing can get it preheated.  A Fresnel lens on an adjustable/movable frame in combination with mirrors can easily focus enough sunlight to boil a batch, weather permitting.

Lots to think about, even more to learn.

Anyone ever make sorghum syrup?  I'd like to hear your input.
 
                    
Posts: 63
Location: N.W. Arkansas
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I haven't grown it, yet.
But, I do have seeds on hand, this is to be the year that I try to grow and process it.

I am really concerned about the crushing it.  I think I will grow just a few stalks to see how I can get the stalks to give up the syrup!

I also have sugar beets to try this year.  And lots of grains, so this year is definitely alot of trial and error.

As you get more information/or experience please keep us informed, so we can all learn from each other.
 
              
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
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i'm going to try and find some seeds to plant this year. though for me, it's just going to be a summer cover crop to compost. If i find a way to extract the syrup easily, i might give that a try too.
 
                    
Posts: 63
Location: N.W. Arkansas
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I got mine from Heirloom Acres.
They have some really interesting items.  Unfortunately, they aren't good about back orders, or replacements.  I am still waiting for 9 items that were ordered in October 2009.  I have called them twice, it will be in next week, is always the answer!
On the positive side, they are sweet folks, and the seeds germinate well.  Just put in what substitutions you would take, and expect to have to call them to get your order.
 
                                
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I grew the variety "Mennonite" from Baker Creek last year. Just a test plot as a learning thing. I read where the best sugar production is just before the seed matures, so that's when I cut it. Since I was cutting by hand, I cut about 3 inches or so from the ground. I was surprised to see the stumps greening up and suckering out a couple weeks later. They matured and made seeds before frost here in z6b TN, however the stalks were slimmer and had less pulp the second time around.
 
                    
Posts: 63
Location: N.W. Arkansas
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That is cool.  You got your sorghum stalk, and then later replacement seeds, that works great.

How large was your test plot?  When did you plant it?  Was it difficult to grow?
I have been guessing that it will grow alot like corn.

Did you juice the stalk?  How did you go about doing this?

In other words.... details please!
 
Ken Peavey
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Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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Hey, rockguy

Can you offer more information about your growing methods: spacing, area covered, inputs, pests encountered, days to harvest, size of plants, how many stalks.

What did you use to cut the stalks?

As for the second growth, do you expect the plants would have grown to a similar size had not frost taken them? 

Yes, yes, details please
 
                                
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I didn't keep a real detailed record. The sorghum was planted after frost here, sometime in late April. It does look similar to corn when growing until it makes it's seed heads. I cut it when the seeds were milky which was mid July. I only had a test plot of 50 or so plants. They were 1 foot apart. I did taste the sap but didn't have any machinery to squeeze all the stalks. I always wanted to grow it and learn more about it. Wish I had room for a big patch, it would be a good crop for some home-grown syrup.
 
Larisa Walk
Posts: 157
Location: South of Winona, Minnesota
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I found out I was gluten sensitive a couple of years ago so growing sorghum for grain is one of my top garden priorities. Here in SE Minnesota we grow a Heritage Farm variety from Seed Saver's Exchange called Dwarf Grain #25. It looks like corn when less than a foot tall, but we plant it later than our sweet corn, and the mature heads are only about 3 feet tall. They give a great yield of reddish-tan seeds which are very tasty as flour, giving things a "crumby" texture. We tried a taller variety with black seed but even the chickens wouldn't eat it. We can tell when our current variety is ripe by watching the heads for bird pecks. When they start eating it we cut the heads with about a foot of extra stalk and dry them on a sheet, on a wire rack, in our tiny greenhouse.

We leave the sugar making to our bees as they seem better at it and we don't use much in a year, only harvesting in the late spring when the bees are already making new honey. A neighbor of ours has left his big sorghum press sitting in the weeds for over 20 years after he got his gloved hand caught in the roller while feeding in stalks. He lost a couple of fingers but it could have been much worse.

Take care out there!
Bob Dahse.
 
                                
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Sounds like Dwarf Grain #25 is a Milo-type sorghum instead of a syrup-type. There's a tremendous variety in sorghums, with claims that some vars can be used for both syrup and grain production.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Walk wrote: We tried a taller variety with black seed but even the chickens wouldn't eat it.


Sounds like a variety bred to be unpalatable to birds, for use in brewing.
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