Sorghum

Branching Out

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Sorghum will be a new crop for me this year, and after having read through past mentions of it in various threads I still have so many questions about it. I am hoping that some of you who have grown it before might be able to offer suggestions. The varieties that I will be planting are Ba Ye Qi from Adaptive Seeds, and Ellen's Red from Quail Seeds-- both grain sorghum from what I understand.

1. Do you have to wait for really warm weather to sow it, and has anyone had success starting it early indoors for transplanting? Does it germinate readily?
2. Is site selection similar to that of corn, with nutrient rich soil and room for it to grow crazy tall without shading other plants?
3. Prairie Road Seeds suggests growing pole beans up sorghum stalks, which would imply that it has really strong stalks that don't lodge. Has anyone ever tried this, and lived to tell the tale? And if so, what might the timing look like if beans and sorghum were planted as companions? Would the sorghum need a few weeks head start?
4. Once established is it drought tolerant to the extent that it won't need watering, as with dry farming?
5. Some of the garden space that I work in belongs to my neighbours. Will they be provoked if I plant this in their yard? In other words, any big downside to this crop? It sounds really intriguing.
6. How do you terminate it in the autumn? Will I need super human strength to cut down the stalks?

Any tips, hints, or insights that you can offer would be most appreciated!
 

digitS'

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Sorghum. I'm gonna answer just off the top of my head, while hoping that there are more knowledgeable folks who will respond.

I've grown both broomcorn and sorghum. Johnny's was the source for broomcorn and the sorghum came as seed from a friend. I noticed little difference in the appearance between the two but they weren't for ornamental purposes. I thought that DW could use them in her flower arrangements. Wasn't too successful in that regard altho' ... I had the opportunity to enjoy chewing on a stalk of sorghum in the garden ;).

No, the stalks weren't anymore difficult to cut than a robust variety of sweet corn. (BTW, I chewed on sweet corn stalks as a kid :D.) ROBUST was the right word for both of these but that was okay as long as they were in the veggie garden. TALL would be another proper word. For ornamental use, including fresh and dry-flower bouquet making, you might prefer millet. My only problem with millet was it being raided by birds the first time I grew it and didn't harvest early enough!

The millet didn't get its start in the greenhouse but the sorghum & broomcorn did. So does the sweet corn these days. They transplant well.

Steve
 

Eleanor

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Sorghum will be a new crop for me this year, and after having read through past mentions of it in various threads I still have so many questions about it. I am hoping that some of you who have grown it before might be able to offer suggestions. The varieties that I will be planting are Ba Ye Qi from Adaptive Seeds, and Ellen's Red from Quail Seeds-- both grain sorghum from what I understand.

1. Do you have to wait for really warm weather to sow it, and has anyone had success starting it early indoors for transplanting? Does it germinate readily?
2. Is site selection similar to that of corn, with nutrient rich soil and room for it to grow crazy tall without shading other plants?
3. Prairie Road Seeds suggests growing pole beans up sorghum stalks, which would imply that it has really strong stalks that don't lodge. Has anyone ever tried this, and lived to tell the tale? And if so, what might the timing look like if beans and sorghum were planted as companions? Would the sorghum need a few weeks head start?
4. Once established is it drought tolerant to the extent that it won't need watering, as with dry farming?
5. Some of the garden space that I work in belongs to my neighbours. Will they be provoked if I plant this in their yard? In other words, any big downside to this crop? It sounds really intriguing.
6. How do you terminate it in the autumn? Will I need super human strength to cut down the stalks?

Any tips, hints, or insights that you can offer would be most appreciated!


We love Ba Yi Qi milo and grow it every year. It is low-to-no maintenance thriving in any location we've grown it on our southeast Michigan homestead despite it essentially being neglected and is suitable for dry farming. Milo is grown like corn so while you -can- start it early inside, if you can grow corn without transplanting, that is really the best way to go (saves time and overall is better for the plant.) Ba Yi Qi is consistently one of our earliest milos and when planted the same time as we do corn (when soil temperature is consistently above 18°C / 65°F) with a first frost mid-to-late September it always matures. Ba Yi Qi doesn't get "crazy" tall but like corn it will create shade. The stalks are strong - we've never had a lodging issue and you don't need superhuman strength to remove the stalks at the end of the season. As for harvest - we usually cut the heads with ~45 cm / 18 inches of stalk remaining and hang them to dry down in our barn though the seeds are edible at time of harvest, it's just fall is a very busy time for us. Companion growing sorghum and pole beans would be the same as if it were corn and beans - the key is that the bean variety is actually a cornfield bean (a "polite" climber that tolerates shade) - I made the mistake one season of growing a pole variety on corn and the beans pulled down DH's corn (oops! NOT a happy camper!) As to a downside - nothing comes to mind; it is a productive crop easy to grow, easy to process, and versatile in the kitchen as a delicious alternative to rice or pasta (~ 1/3 cup of grains = 6 servings; cover grains with ~30 cm / 1 inch of water, bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat, cover with lid and simmer about 15 minutes for an al-dente firmness.) We frequently pair it with a winter squash. HTH
 

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Branching Out

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We love Ba Yi Qi milo and grow it every year...
Wow Eleanor-- you have a lot of good information here. Thank you for the detailed notes. 'Milo' is a new term for me; it would appear that sorghum goes by many different names. Initially I was having reservations about planting this, but now I am beginning to feel very good about trying this sturdy, drought tolerant crop in my garden this year. Our climate in B.C. sounds similar to yours in Michigan, although on the west coast summer is always a bit of a crap shoot. Some years we don't really get a summer, so I may just start a few plants indoors and direct sow the rest as an insurance policy.

Your photo of the cooked sorghum with squash has me looking forward to tasting this grain too, and I suspect that my gluten- intolerant friend will be wanting to try it as well. I don't know how I have missed learning about sorghum until now. It sounds fantastic!
 

Eleanor

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Milo is sorghum used as a grain - it's also known as Kafir. Sorghum for syrup is often seen as Sorgo. Here are a couple of neat old ag bulletins on grain sorghum.
 

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heirloomgal

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I've grown it also @Branching Out , just the one time, but it was a real success. Which is something, because that crop can have a dicey maturity for Canadian climates, especially mine. I used transplants to good effect, and a spacing of about 8 inches I think it was between plants. Production was huge, I couldn't believe it. Germinated very easy, though the packet was old. I found it quite beautiful and stately as far as a vegetable plant goes. Tall. Yes, I do find you need super strength to get them out. They had tree like root systems that seemed to be made of cables. I think I let it rot over the winter and went at it in spring. As for growing climbing beans on them, or even corn, I have experimented and concluded IMO it isn't practical. I know it's talked about alot, but in reality beans truly need full sun, tall leafy plants as supports can't provide them that. It'll shade them, & they won't grow well. Also, the harvest windows are different (especially in cases where you might need to save one from damaging rains) and that often means one crop needs to be destroyed for the other to survive. Downside - mice ADORE it! Hulls are crazy hard. Also, I don't find it tastes good. My son got very seriously ill when he ate sorghum flour, it's a very allergenic food, quite high in antinutrients like oxalic acid, phytic acid. Like cicerchia, it's drought resistance has a dark side - drought causes it to accumulate toxins, like cyanide. Sorghum has actually killed livestock because of that.
 
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This is good information Heirloomgal-- thank you. I reviewed an article from MSU, https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/using-the-sorghum-family-as-both-cover-crop-and-forage, and have noted the prussic acid poisoning risk after the leaves have experienced a frost, or after they wilt during drought conditions. As a precaution I will plant it away from where our bunny forages; I would hate to have her nibble a fresh frosty or wilted shoot and fall ill. And how interesting that the cyanide accumulates in the leaves, but not the grain. Maybe the toxins remain concentrated lower down on the plant? To terminate it I will likely leave the stalks in the ground to overwinter as you did, which should make chopping them down manageable come spring. From what I understand their roots run deep, which should help improve the soil as they decompose. The mouse issue is a bit of a concern; thank you for mentioning that. We will have to have traps out for sure, and not leave the harvested seed heads where rodents will find them.

I can imagine that a block planting of sorghum could create a lot of shade that would negatively affect pole bean companion plants. I noticed that Prairie Road recommends planting sorghum in a single row to create a living fence, as shown in the photos shown here: https://www.prairieroadorganic.co/p...ghum-certified-organic-seed-1-packet-50-seeds
Visually it is stunning, but air flow and sunlight would need to be carefully managed if pole beans were added to the equation. I think it would be good to try growing a few sorghum with pole bean plants using generous spacing, just to see how it goes.

It is my hope that I will like the taste of the cooked grain, but I have never sampled it before so this will be an adventure. Good chance that each variety has a distinct and unique flavour profile. Do you by any chance recall which varieties were not pleasing to your palate? One question that remains for me is whether the Red Kaoliang Sorghum is even intended for human consumption, given that Prairie Road's description specifically mentions saving the seeds for 'livestock and bird feed'. I emailed them a while ago, but have not yet received a response. After hearing of your son's reaction to consuming sorghum flour I would definitely like confirmation on this.
 

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