Sorghum

digitS'

Garden Master
Joined
Dec 13, 2007
Messages
25,931
Reaction score
29,474
Points
457
Location
border, ID/WA(!)
Fresh ears of corn and green beans, I have to think, were not the important interest of First Nation people. Their 3 Sisters plantings works for dry seed harvesting.

The vining squash reinforces this notion if you find yourself trying to move around to harvest. It does a fairly good job in suppressing weeds.

The sorghum plants were in single rows in my garden. The broomcorn (also a sorghum) was bunched together at the end of a bed. It would probably not be a very good idea to plant them densely with beans in the midst.

It looked to me that they developed seed easily. So, pollination is probably not as difficult as with corn in small plantings.

Steve
 

Eleanor

Deeply Rooted
Joined
Dec 16, 2016
Messages
104
Reaction score
303
Points
157
Location
Southeast Michigan
The sorghum plants were in single rows in my garden. The broomcorn (also a sorghum) was bunched together at the end of a bed. It would probably not be a very good idea to plant them densely with beans in the midst.

It looked to me that they developed seed easily. So, pollination is probably not as difficult as with corn in small plantings.

Steve

Sorghum is self-pollinating while corn is wind pollinated which is why sorghum works well in single rows and corn is best grown in blocks.
 

Eleanor

Deeply Rooted
Joined
Dec 16, 2016
Messages
104
Reaction score
303
Points
157
Location
Southeast Michigan
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.

From University of Wisconsin's informative overview of sorghum:

"Use of Sorghum (grain)​
  • Worldwide, sorghum is a FOOD GRAIN About 3/4 of the world's production is used as food for humans Sorghum is a principal food source in parts of Africa, India, and China.
  • In the US, sorghum is used primarily as a FEED GRAIN
  • In the SOUTHERN GREAT PLAINS, sorghum is an excellent crop for meeting both GRAIN and ROUGHAGE requirements for livestock.
  • Sorghum is very close to corn in FEED EFFICIENCY for most types of livestock."
With this in mind and after consulting Red Kaoliang's GRIN listing (PI 90769 - click over to the Observation tab) I wouldn't hesitate to grow it for human consumption. The one factor that comes to mind as to why it is described as for "livestock and bird feed" instead of for human consumption is that perhaps its grain isn't as easily separated from the hull in comparison to a cultivar like Ba Yi Qi which de-hulls readily with hand-rubbing.
 

Zeedman

Garden Master
Joined
Dec 10, 2016
Messages
3,897
Reaction score
11,958
Points
307
Location
East-central Wisconsin
From University of Wisconsin's informative overview of sorghum:

"Use of Sorghum (grain)​
  • Worldwide, sorghum is a FOOD GRAIN About 3/4 of the world's production is used as food for humans Sorghum is a principal food source in parts of Africa, India, and China.
  • In the US, sorghum is used primarily as a FEED GRAIN
  • In the SOUTHERN GREAT PLAINS, sorghum is an excellent crop for meeting both GRAIN and ROUGHAGE requirements for livestock.
  • Sorghum is very close to corn in FEED EFFICIENCY for most types of livestock."
With this in mind and after consulting Red Kaoliang's GRIN listing (PI 90769 - click over to the Observation tab) I wouldn't hesitate to grow it for human consumption. The one factor that comes to mind as to why it is described as for "livestock and bird feed" instead of for human consumption is that perhaps its grain isn't as easily separated from the hull in comparison to a cultivar like Ba Yi Qi which de-hulls readily with hand-rubbing.
A lot of great info @Eleanor .

The hulling aspect - and the height of the plants I observed growing on SSE's Heritage Farm - are what has thus far discouraged me from trying to grow millet. Didn't even know about possible toxicity. :eek: I am trying to add grains to my garden, but would probably want to sample grain sorghum before trying to grow it.

But what about birds? With bird feeders either on the property (the rural garden) or neighboring property (at home) would I just be feeding the birds? They peck at my corn right through the husk, so hard to believe they would leave any naked grain untouched.
 

heirloomgal

Garden Addicted
Joined
Jan 17, 2021
Messages
3,690
Reaction score
11,851
Points
235
Location
Northern Ontario, Canada
Do you by any chance recall which varieties were not pleasing to your palate?
The sorghum flour I had I bought was from a health food store and labeled 100% organic, and grown in Canada. It wasn't my own sorghum I grew. I'm not sure of the type is was. But there probably is notable differences in varieties.

It hasn't been since my son's illness with it that I did research, but I remember reading that sorghum is most likely to develop toxins when it's feeling threatened; when the plants are young, dry, frosted, apparently even chewing action on the leaves can stimulate the presence of toxins. The grains too can be contaminated, but this seems less reported, possibly because it's main use is as animal feed as full on plants, without that separation of grain from plant. To this day, I suspect this may have something to do with what happened to us because the quantity he ate was quite small, but we'll never know.

You will probably do well with beans on sorghum if there's wide spacing. My neurological grooves always default to thinking of gardening in small spaces, but I saw a fellow on the bean network post a photo of pole beans he was successfully growing on corn but it was three corn plants in a clump, very widely spaced from other corn clumps. That worked for him, but I'm space challenged so I can only grow corn/sorghum in blocks. Growing as you've described would probably work.
 

Eleanor

Deeply Rooted
Joined
Dec 16, 2016
Messages
104
Reaction score
303
Points
157
Location
Southeast Michigan
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.

Grain sorghums (Sorghum bicolor) are a “traditional crop in Africa and India and constitute a major source of calories and protein for millions of people.”* Yes, it has a “dark side” - it contains toxins; however, I direct your attention to the WHO's fact sheet “Natural Toxins in Food” which if you are concerned about eating milo would also have you questioning your consumption of kidney beans, parsnips, citrus, stone fruit, and almonds among other common edibles. Correspondingly, the FDA conducts a Total Diet Study (TDS); browsing its 83 page 2022 FDA TDS report is eye-opening. Reassuringly though, a 2022 article suggests human consumption of sorghum is “in the light” with beneficial properties:

“The functional composition of sorghum plays an essential role in human health by inhibiting the risk of chronic diseases. Available epidemiological evidence suggests that tannin (proanthocyanidins) in sorghum acts as an antioxidant protecting from inflammation and cancer. Its fiber content can reduce blood cholesterol and glucose level, and is also helpful in celiac disease.”**

In regard to livestock – as sorghum is a common feedstock, resources such as Livestock Feed Guides abound for safe guidelines to incorporate it into your feeding regimen. In general, Cornell's Department of Animal Science maintains an excellent site on Plants Poisonous to Livestock that's searchable by both botanical and common name for those wanting to check if a particular crop poses a risk to your livestock (and companion animals!)

Not specific to sorghum, but as a crop I regularly grow and enjoy and since it was mentioned, cicerchia (Lathyrus sativus) though not a common feature on North American tables, is celebrated aboard Slow Food's Ark of Taste (Licodia Eubea Cicerchia.) It is an “insurance crop” against famine in east Africa, India and regions of the Mediterranean.*** The Curious Case of the Grasspea is another relevant read for those wanting to expand their culinary and cultivation horizons by growing this legume.

Whew – apologies this is a bit longer than I intended. I wanted to share what motivates my sincere belief milo (and cicerchia) is a valuable addition to a garden that enhances both personal and community food security. And like with much of what we eat, it seems moderation is an important aspect in balancing risk vs. benefit.

(because I am a geek)

*S.O. Serna Saldivar, 1.4.5 Sorghum in Cereal Grains Properties, Processing, and Nutritional Attributes accessed via Google Scholar

** Waseem Khalid, et al (2022) Nutrients and bioactive compounds of Sorghum bicolor L. used to prepare functional foods: a review on the efficacy against different chronic disorders, International Journal of Food Properties, 25:1, 1045-1062

***Duke, James A. Handbook of Legumes of World Economic Importance, Plenum Press, New York, 1981.– Eleanor's note: a perfect addition to a bean geek's library!
 

Eleanor

Deeply Rooted
Joined
Dec 16, 2016
Messages
104
Reaction score
303
Points
157
Location
Southeast Michigan
A lot of great info @Eleanor .

The hulling aspect - and the height of the plants I observed growing on SSE's Heritage Farm - are what has thus far discouraged me from trying to grow millet. Didn't even know about possible toxicity. :eek: I am trying to add grains to my garden, but would probably want to sample grain sorghum before trying to grow it.

But what about birds? With bird feeders either on the property (the rural garden) or neighboring property (at home) would I just be feeding the birds? They peck at my corn right through the husk, so hard to believe they would leave any naked grain untouched.


Ba Yi Qi de-hulls easily and is not crazy tall; at 5'7” (170 cm), DH can comfortably reach its grain heads to cut them for harvest. SSE has two milos (Texacoa, and Dwarf Grain Sorghum) that average 5” (152 cm) or less. We trialed them last season and they did well enough they will appear in rotation with our other milo cultivars in future seasons. As to birds, in our experience losses to predation are minimal. We suspect the tightly clustered structure of the panicles is a factor, that and it seems Ba Yi Qi matures before the birds (and mice) start their fall preparations. As to bird feeders - I actually put out suet feeders mid-to-late season as a distracting “offering” which seems successful. We do need to actively trap mice that come to pilfer our other grains and legumes though.

Please see my above post regarding sorghum's toxicity.

As to millet – we grow multiple species with varying degrees of attractiveness to birds. Pearl / West African (Pennisetum glaucum), and Dragon Claw (Eleusine coracana) are two that suffer the least predation and we grow them without protection. Foxtail (Setaria italica), Proso (Panicum miliaceum), and Japanese (Echinochloa crus-galli) absolutely need intervention (netting and/or bagging grain heads) if we hope for a decent harvest. Last season we had issues with Red Wing Blackbirds pecking through our corn as well – a first for us.

You might enjoy FAO's Sorghum and Millet in Human Nutrition

Another productive, easy to grow, low-to-no maintenance grain crop you might consider is grain amaranth (the ability to successively vegetative harvest leaves/shoots throughout the season is a bonus.) A potential downside though is its tiny seeds are easily spread in a breeze making it a prolific self-seeder. A “fix” for this is if you plant a red-leafed cultivar, at least when the seedlings emerge, the color makes it easier to identify them for removal if appearing in unauthorized locations.

HTH and happy planning!
 

Branching Out

Deeply Rooted
Joined
Dec 2, 2022
Messages
1,475
Reaction score
4,684
Points
175
Location
Southwestern B.C.
On May 16th I decided to try sowing five Red Kaoliang sorghum seeds in soil blocks alongside some blocks with marigolds and cucumber seeds, and I was very curious to see how it would go given that I have never even set eyes on a sorghum seed before. The tray was placed on the windowsill and the seeds germinated quickly, with the sprouts a half inch above the soil within 4 days. In the photo they are the thin seedlings closest to the window. It is so spirit lifting to try a new crop and have it germinate and grow quickly! This first planting will go in to a communal neighborhood garden where I am cultivating a small vegetable patch this summer. I hope to grow a row of pole beans along the edge of my spot using the sorghum stalks as support. My area forms the northeast corner of the vegetable garden, and one side already has tall bean netting running east to west, so a nice spot to try a few new varieties. Today we are receiving our first rainfall after a ten day heat wave, so there will be moisture in the soil when I plant them out today or tomorrow. Thank you all for your helpful feedback on how to grow this unusual grain-- your input has got me off to a great start! :)
 

Attachments

  • IMG_20230522_060449806_HDR.jpg
    IMG_20230522_060449806_HDR.jpg
    216.2 KB · Views: 76

Rhodie Ranch

Garden Master
Joined
Nov 19, 2009
Messages
3,537
Reaction score
5,769
Points
333
Location
Southern Washington State, 8b
Once when we were traveling to Arkansas to return the Grands to their parents, I saw a grain growing in fields. Never seen such a sight. They were more stubby than corn. Looked it up and it was sorghum. But it wasn't tall as you all mention above.

I buy sorghum for my chickens as a treat.
 

digitS'

Garden Master
Joined
Dec 13, 2007
Messages
25,931
Reaction score
29,474
Points
457
Location
border, ID/WA(!)
I've wondered about the height, @Rhodie Ranch .

Varieties of wheat were developed years ago that were shorter, putting more nutrients into seed production and less into stems. Also, the lower height made them more easily harvested by machinery. I think this may have been true with other grain crops.

I was taken aback by the great height of sugar cane when visiting Louisiana during the harvest. But with that "grass," the crop value is in the canes, not the seeds. Surely, sorghum varieties exist that are used for grain while others are used for molasses made from the stems of the plants.

Steve
 

Latest posts

Top