Increasing the Sustainability of Our Farm by Learning how to Best Produce Sorghum Molasses
2012 was an extremely dry, hot year. We didn't know if any sorghum would even grow so we were slow to make any arrangements for school field trips. However, we were tremendously surprised with how well the sorghum cane produced.
At first, Ron only planted the Dale variety of sorghum. His first planting was on the eleventh of May, 2012. Ron planted four rows and got a thick stand. He attempted to thin the sorghum six to eight inches apart, but it came back! On the 30th of May, 2012, Ron planted eight more rows of the Dale variety. He has remodeled the planter plates; but it was too thin. They didn’t work right. The seed stuck in the holes, and it didn’t drop enough seed. This stand wasn’t as good as the first.
June 11, 2012, we got one and two-tenths inches of rain. Ron planted a second variety of sorghum on June 14, 2012. This was Sugar Drip of which he planted eight rows.
Ron cultivated the sorghum on the 23rd of June, 2012, with the horse-drawn cultivator which he had remodeled to be pulled by his tractor.
Ron got up at 5:00 a.m. June 25 and 26 to thin the sorghum because it was so hot. On July 2 and 3, 2012, Ron thinned the Sugar Drip sorghum. All the sorghum cane was green and growing well in spite of the hot, dry summer.
Although Ron had planted the Sugar Drip several weeks after the Dale, it grew very quickly, and it has a shorter growing season.
We received several good rains in September. After the Labor Day rains the Sugar Drip produced some more heads. By October, 2012, all of the sorghum was ready to harvest.
Ron and our two sons, Noah and Phillip, went to the field to harvest the sorghum cane. Ron mowed several rows of cane with the tractor and a sickle mower. The boys picked it up by hand and loaded it on a trailer.
In early October we cut several loads of Sugar Drip cane to take to Missouri Town in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. They tried to grow sorghum cane for their annual Fall Festival, but the deer had severely damaged their stand of sorghum. They heard we had sorghum cane, so they called us! We were delighted to sell them sorghum cane for their Fall Festival demonstration.
After cutting the cane in the field, Ron and the boys brought it up to the press. Our daughters, Sarah, Catherine, Ruby, and Robin, helped Ron and the boys cut off the heads by hand. Our son, Hiram, age 8, also helped with carrying the cane stalks to the press. Our Drafthorse, Sadie, pulled the press. Sarah and Catherine directed Sadie. The juice ran through a pipe-line Ron built into a five-gallon bucket. It was then pumped through a short hose passing through a strainer into our 100-gallon stainless steel cooking vat. Phillip and Hiram helped run the pump. Our family cooked the cane juice using a wood fire. We skimmed foam off the bubbling juice for several hours until the sorghum juice cooked down to molasses.
It seems the Sugar Drip variety cooked faster with less skimming and made more uniform batches of molasses.
When the sorghum finished cooking, we ladled it into big stock- posts. Then we jarred it into pint, quart, half-gallon, and gallon jars. These we sealed. This part of the molasses process is where Mom (Rachel) participated!
We had labels made which our daughter, Sarah, helped design with an illustration of an old-fashioned sorghum press, just like the one we use. We also purchased plastic-angel dispenser bottles with seals and lids for the molasses!
We are selling the sorghum molasses by word of mouth. We have put out flyers. We are very satisfied with the end product! Our family uses sorghum in many of our household foods and we look forward to having it as an important part of our daily diet for years to come!
Ron went to an auction and bought a Massey-Ferguson silage cutter with some of the money from the grant funds. He used it to chop the remaining sorghum cane out of the field. He chopped samples of both the Dale and Sugar Drip varieties. Ron chopped the whole cane with the grain in the heads and juice right out of the field. He also chopped samples of the stripped and unstripped cane that had been ran through the press. He is testing for the forage value. We do not have the results from the tests at this time.
All of the old-timers told us to strip all of the leaves off of the sorghum cane. We did comparisons between striped and unstripped cane to determine whether or not it was necessary to strip it in order to have good sorghum. In every one of our comparisons, the unstripped cane produced more juice. There was not a noticeable difference in the end product. We believe the old-timers stripped the cane to make it easier to handle and easier to put through the sorghum press.
Ron, Noah, and Phillip took the trailer loads of sorghum cane to our neighbor’s to weigh it on his farm-truck scales. We weighed samples of both varieties, and they weighed about the same. Ron determined there was approximately 24 tons of forage to the acre which was a tremendous yield for such a dry year.
The Dale sorghum reached a height of 11 feet. The Sugar Drip sorghum reached 9 feet and several inches (varying just a little.).
We got 23 pounds of sorghum heads from one 175-foot row of Sugar Drip sorghum cane! This row produced 26 and ½ gallons of cane juice. This cooked down to about three gallons of molasses. This was on Oct. 17, 2012. On Oct. 19, 2012, we got the exact same amount of cane juice from another row of Sugar Drip. It cooked down about the same. These were both from stripped cane.
We got 27 gallons of cane juice from unstripped Sugar Drip sorghum cane on Oct. 16, 2012. It cooked down about the same. The end product did not have a noticeable difference in any way from the stripped cane molasses.
The Sugar Drip sorghum produced 35 gallons of molasses. We jarred this into 67 pint jars, 68 quart jars, and 20 one-half gallon jars. The Sugar Drip sorghum is lighter in color and sweeter in taste! The Dale sorghum produces 30 gallons of molasses. We jarred this into 82 pints, 69 quarts, and 13 gallons. The Dale sorghum molasses has a deeper flavor and more closely resembles the Black-Strap molasses.
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
We are excited about growing sorghum and have started preparations for next year’s activites. Plans for 2013 include planting several varieties of sorghum cane. Ron wants to plant Dale, Sugar Drip, and Mennonite varieties. He plans to have multiple plantings ten days apart starting May10, 2013 through June 15th, 2013.
We are developing packets of sorghum seed to hand out to the members of the MudFly Kids Club at our monthly MudRuns. These packets will have planting instructions on them. This will be during the April, May, and June MudRuns. Any children who grow sorghum cane will be able to bring it to our farm to be processed. The children who do the best will receive a prize.
Our goal for the sorghum-molasses demonstrations is to enable the people to see the entire process. We plan to have some cane pressed the day before and have the juice placed in a storage tank overnight. Then on the day of the demonstration, our family will begin cooking that juice before the trip to the field to see the cane cut. The entire process involves cutting the cane, removing the heads of grain, stripping leaves off, pressing the cane, piping juice into a cooking vat, and cooking the juice down to molasses. Since the cooking process takes so long (several hours), they will only be able to see the whole process if we have cane juice ready to cook in the morning.
We plan to serve sorghum-molasses cookies and milk to all the people who attend the demonstrations. Also, we are developing a coloring book about the sorghum-molasses process. Each student who attends a demonstration will receive one.
We are planning on getting field-trip information out to schools and home-school groups in our area by mid-April, 2013. These will have sign-up dates for our October demonstrations.
We harvested a few loads of sorghum-cane at time, and it took several weeks to get it all processed and jarred. During the harvest we contacted several families who home-school along with other friends who were interested in our project. They came over on different days to observe the sorghum making process. Mrs. Mounts brought her six children over one day. Mr. and Mrs. Kit Gibler brought two of their children over. Bill and Teresa Matthews, Rick and Teresa Schmoll, Mrs. Villotti, and Jacob Villotti also came over on various days to observe the sorghum-molasses process. We had a total of 17 people observe the sorghum demonstrations.
We plan to share sorghum information through the MudFly Kids Club, sorghum demonstrations in October, and marketing our sorghum-molasses. We look forward to field trips in October, and we will share any information about sorghum with anyone who asks in the meantime.