The sorghum plant might be one of the most common and beneficial cereal plants that many gardeners have never heard of! This drought tolerant plant is believed to have been first domesticated in the Niger Valley of West Africa and has become an important crop in crops throughout Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
From its humble origins as an ancient grain, sorghum is now grown commercially for a variety of uses, including animal feed, sorghum syrup (similar to molasses), weaving material, floral arrangements, and even industrial processes like ethanol production.
Despite its many uses and popularity in other countries, sorghum is not grown in many backyard gardens. With a large number of sorghum varieties available, growing sorghum is a viable option for many home gardeners, especially if they have previous experience growing other whole grains.
Good products on Amazon for growing sorghum:
Quick care instructions
The sorghum plant is a great multipurpose plant. Source: Michele Dorsey Walfred
|Common name(s)||Sorghum, Big Millet, Broom Corn, Guinea Corn, Durra, Imphee, Jowar, Milo|
|Scientific name||Sorghum bicolor|
|days until harvest||90-120 days|
|water||3-4" of water every 10 days|
|floor||Slightly acidic, drains well. Tolerant of sandy soils|
|fertilizer||Heavy eater, benefits from nitrogen|
|pests||Birds, rodents, aphids, caterpillars, sorghum mosquito|
|Diseases||Sorghum leaf blight, Bacterial leaf spot, Head blight, Downy mildew, Fusarium, Anthracnose, Sorghum ergot, Dwarf maize mosaic virus (MDMV), Sugar cane mosaic virus (SMV)|
All about sorghum
Sweet sorghum flowers are forming. Source: Petan
Sorghum bicolor, commonly known as sorghum, large millet, gorse corn, Guinea corn, milo and many others, is one of the top five grain crops in the world. Originally from West Africa, sorghum spread throughout Africa to the Middle East and this food crop is now grown all over the world.
Like other grain plants, sorghum produces large, grassy stalks that end in a seed head. The plant is similar in appearance to corn, but unlike corn, the sorghum seeds we eat form in a cluster at the top of the plant rather than forming a spike.
Planted as seeds, sorghum grows quickly and puts out green, fibrous stalks. Once the stalk has reached its mature height of 2 to 5 feet (depending on the variety being grown), dense clusters of yellow, orange, or red flowers form at the ends of the stalks, which get pollinated and turn into the sorghum seed we eat . Like other grain crops like wheat or barley, sorghum produces shoots, which are offshoots that form from nodes underground and result in a higher grain yield. Tillering is largely influenced by external factors such as crop variety chosen, growing environment and management practices.
A sorghum plant can be used in many culinary ways. Seeds are ground into sorghum flour and used to bake flatbread. Sorghum seeds can also be cooked similar to popcorn to create a healthy and delicious snack. A Tunisian porridge called droô is made from sorghum seeds, milk and sugar. In areas of Central America, chefs use sorghum instead of the usual corn to make tortillas. Sweet sorghum is a variety grown primarily in the United States for syrup production. The resulting syrup, which resembles molasses, is known as sweet sorghum. Areas in Southeast Asia and Africa ferment the sorghum grain to make beer and spirits.
Aside from its culinary uses, the sorghum crop is commonly used by farmers as a staple feed ingredient in cattle feed. The grain is used as animal feed either as hay or silage and has a higher nutrient and protein content than many other crops. After the sorghum seeds are harvested, the discarded stalks can be turned into a pulp that is formed into wallboard and other building materials. Broom sorghum, also known as broom grain, is a variety grown to make a traditional-style broom. A relatively new use for sorghum is in ethanol production. Sweet sorghum is harvested to make syrup, which is then fermented and turned into ethanol.
There are many varieties of sorghum grown commercially for sorghum production, but the most common ones for the home gardener are sweet millet (also known as cane millet), grain millet, and broom millet.
Sorghum thrives in areas with long, hot summers. The best time to plant sorghum is when temperatures are consistently warm, with many gardeners waiting until May or early June. It is best grown by seeding directly into the ground. Sow the seeds ¼ inch deep and 8 to 12 inches apart. Sorghum should be planted in a warm spot in full sun and prefers well-drained soil. When the seedlings germinate, focus on weed control. Young sorghum plants have difficulty competing with weeds.
Though it's primarily grown over a large area (think other grains like corn, oats, and wheat), a gardener with limited space can certainly grow sorghum in a container. Sorghum plants are self-fertile, unlike corn and many other grains that are wind-pollinated, you only need one plant to produce seed.
Volunteer sorghum plants in a garden bed. Source: 13 Winds
Sorghum is a fast grower and taking care of it is all about getting it on the road to success. It grows quickly once established and requires minimal maintenance.
sun and temperature
Sun and heat are two of the most important aspects when growing sorghum. Aim for a spot in full sun, with 12-14 hours of sunlight in midsummer. While sorghum can be grown in USDA zones 2-11, it has higher grain yields when grown in temperatures of at least 80°F, with 90°F being even better. Sorghum can survive light frosts, but will die once the main stem is frozen. Sorghum germinates best at a soil temperature of 60°F or above. When soil temperature begins to drop below 60°F, sorghum will have trouble germinating consistently.
water and moisture
Sorghum prefers soil that is consistently moist but not waterlogged. Aim for 3 to 4 inches of water about every 10 days. Watering sorghum in the morning will help protect it from the heat of the day. Sorghum tolerates both drought and overwatering, but has a lower grain yield when pushed to either extreme. Watering at the base of the plants works best using something like a drip hose or drip irrigation, which will prevent the leaves and seed pods of the plant from getting too wet.
Sorghum prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5. Sorghum is relatively tolerant of poor soil but requires a large amount of nitrogen, so make sure you amend the soil with compost and a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Be careful of weed seeds in the soil and follow good weed control practices as sorghum doesn't like to compete for nutrients, especially early in its life cycle.
As a grass species, sorghum relies on large amounts of nitrogen to grow rapidly. A high nitrogen fertilizer such as blood meal or feather meal works well. Even with a healthy layer of compost, you should fertilize your sorghum with a high-nitrogen fertilizer every 6 weeks throughout the growing season. Phosphate and potassium are less important for sorghum growth and the required nutrients should be provided by any healthy soil.
Aside from harvest time, sorghum does not require any special pruning or training. After harvesting the grain sorghum, the plants will occasionally produce a second crop under the right conditions, but most gardeners will cut back the stalks and use them in the compost bin.
Sorghum is only propagated by seed. For planting information, see the Planting section above! If sorghum seeds are left on the stalk, they will readily self-seed.
Harvesting and Storage
A closeup of the sorghum head. Source: scott1346
Harvesting sorghum is straightforward and easy, but the techniques differ depending on whether you're growing sweet sorghum (aka cane millet), grain millet, or gorse millet.
If you are growing sweet sorghum to make sorghum syrup, cut the stems off at the base about two weeks after the "milk" stage. As with corn (and other grains), the milk stage refers to the time when the seeds produce a milky substance when pressed with a fingernail. Next, strip the leaves from the stalks and squeeze the sticks, creating a light green sap that can be cooked into sorghum syrup.
If you are growing grain millet, the crop must be left until the seeds have fully developed. Once the seeds are hard and shiny, they can be harvested. Cut off the top parts of the stem with the seed heads still attached and let them dry in a warm place for at least a week. Once dry, roll the seed heads over a section of metal cloth or wide screen to free the seeds.
For broom, the dried stalks and seed heads can be cut and used to make traditional brooms, floral arrangements, or other crafts.
Processed, dry grain sorghum can be eaten immediately or stored in a cool, dark place in a tightly closed container, such as a jar. Stored this way, it can last for several years. When you grind your crop into flour, it should be stored much like other flours; in a closed container away from direct light or heat.
Sorghum syrup, like honey, can be stored in a closed container in a cupboard. Try to avoid extreme temperatures and it will last for many months. When the syrup crystallizes, gently heat the jar in a saucepan of warm water.
A field of sorghum. Source: Noble Research Institute
Grown under favorable conditions, sorghum is a very hardy plant that doesn't face too many problems. However, there are a number of pests and diseases that can attack a sorghum crop.
The most common growth problems affecting sorghum stem from improper planting conditions. Too little sun and low temperatures leads to a lower crop yield. While sorghum is fairly drought tolerant, too much or too little water will also stunt growth.
Luckily, most pests that affect sorghum are fairly easy to control. Two big pests are rodents and birds; Both like to snack on the delicious seed heads. Dealing with these depends on timing and cover. Once seed heads begin to form, consider covering your crop with a floating row cover or bird netting. Plan your harvest so that the dry seeds don't sit in the garden for too long.
Aphids, caterpillars and sorghum midges are more difficult to control. aphids can be easily removed with hard jets of water from a hose or by planting trap crops such as nasturtium or marigolds nearby. caterpillars and sorghum mosquito can quickly destroy crops and should be handled aggressively. Neem oil sprays work well for many gardeners, but if you have a heavy infestation (especially sorghum mosquito) you may want to pull out stronger insecticides. Repeat the application of neem oil or insecticide spray every 3 to 5 days after the initial treatment until the problem is relieved. Bacillus thuringiensis spray can also help control many species of caterpillars.
Sorghum leaf blight, bacterial leaf spots, head dirt, Wrong mildew, and anthracnose are all caused by fungal species. They mainly attack the leaves and can lead to growth disorders or death. In this case, the best defense is precaution. Choosing disease-resistant cultivars and planting in well-drained soil with plenty of sun will help keep fungus infestation low. If that doesn't work, a fungicide such as organic copper fungicide or neem oil should be applied.
Sorghum ergot is also caused by fungus but cannot be easily treated with the above methods. Ergot primarily affects the pollinating flowers of plants and is difficult to combat. Currently, there are no cultivars of sorghum that are resistant to ergot, and treatment involves intensive use of powerful fungicides that farmers usually only have in large quantities.
Maize dwarf mosaic virus (MDMV) and Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SMV) are both viruses transmitted by aphids. Genetic resistance and control of aphid populations is the best way to prevent these diseases. Once infected with the virus, it is best to destroy the plant.
As with most crops, crop rotation can play an important role in preventing these pest problems. Fungal spores and disease-carrying pests often overwinter in the soil, so crop rotation can be one of the best ways to prevent pest problems in the first place.
frequently asked Questions
Sorghum flower in bloom. Source: Illinois Biofuels
Q: Can humans eat sorghum?
A: Yes! The seeds are the most commonly consumed part, but syrup making is also a common use for sorghum.
Q: What is sorghum called in India?
Q: Is sorghum easy to grow?
A: Sorghum is relatively easy to grow and is already being grown by farmers around the world!
The green thumb behind this article: