Sorghum is a very underrated grain that impresses me more every year. It’s a heat lover with similar needs to corn. If the goal is homestead or personal scale grain production I’m not sure you can beat it in terms of productivity and ease of processing by hand. Plus, it’s gluten free.
We’ve been growing sorghum at the farm since 2011, with good results from several early maturing varieties. For years our go-to sorghum was Mennonite, a dual purpose variety for both grain and syrup. It usually produces well, but even when started early and transplanted out it matures just narrowly before the first killing frost, which can make it iffy some years.
In 2016 we discovered an extra early variety called Ba-Ye-Qi, hailing from Inner Mongolia. It matured with no trouble at all, even from a direct sowing in June, and was ready to harvest early-September. Definitely the one I’d recommend for grain growing!
- Growing Sorghum in the Maritimes -
Sorghum can be either direct sown or transplanted. They transplant quite easily, so I usually give them a head start that way. I start mine in plug trays in our greenhouse about a month before planting out, starting early May for an early June planting. They grow best in fertile soil, but can tolerate drought and sandy soil better than most crops.
By mid-summer the plants will be growing tall, and closely resembling corn. The seed heads appear in late Summer, starting out green and turning orange-red when mature in early Fall. Harvest when the grains are plump.
I like to cut the grain heads off the plant, and to let them dry further under cover (in the greenhouse in our case). The next step is to rub the grains out of the seed heads, which is easy when they’re fully dry. I just rub them vigorously with a gloved hand, collecting the grains in a bucket. They usually come pretty clean off the seed heads, but the grains could still use a winnowing afterwards to blow away any stems and plant bits.
And there you have it! You can grind your sorghum into a versatile gluten free flour, or even pop them.
- Saving Sorghum Seeds -
Sorghum cross-pollinates freely in the wind, similarly to corn. Around these parts it’s unlikely that anyone else will be growing sorghum nearby, so you only need to coordinate growing one variety each year to prevent crosses. Otherwise, the grain is obviously the seed, so just save some of your harvest to plant next season.