Sorghum is one of Africa’s greatest contributions to the world’s agricultural diversity, and is a traditional crop in the South. Adaptable and drought tolerant, sorghum varieties exist that provide grain, sweet syrup, animal fodder, or sometimes, more than one crop from a single planting! The main requirement for sorghum is heat—plant the seeds about ½” deep a couple of weeks after spring frosts are over and soil is really warm. Ordinary garden soil and moisture are sufficient to get a crop, although sorghum may be more productive under better conditions. Seeds are ripe at about the same time as sugar content of the stalks reaches maximum.
Sorghum is native to Africa, and the grain feeds up to a half billion people each year. Sorghum is grown in more than 30 different countries. It is more popular in the Southern U.S. than in the North, because sorghum thrives in heat. Sorghum has a bright future in the U.S.; it has recently increased in popularity because it is a gluten-free grain that can be made into flour and porridge. Some sorghum varieties have been bred for grain, others for syrup. Finally, grass sorghum is a fodder crop for livestock. History--Sorghum originated in Africa and was brought to the U.S. by African slaves. Sorghum was popular in the Southern U.S. with homesteaders who pressed the stalks into a sweet syrup similar to maple syrup or molasses. Sorghum syrup was a dietary staple in the American South until the 1950s. Seed Starting--Sow seeds directly into soil three to four weeks after the last frost date or when soil has warmed up to 60-65 degrees consistently. Sow seeds one inch apart; thin to four to six inches apart in the rows.
How to Grow
Straw mulch can be used, but sorghum grows quickly and usually shades out and out-competes weeds. Sorghum is drought tolerant, but if leaves begin to curl in super dry conditions, give them a drink. This is a carefree plant; it does not take much except heat to thrive. Expect your plants to grow from eight to twelve feet high.
Sorghum demands hot summer weather. Northern growers should try Red’s Red sorghum; it’s a short season variety and will usually mature even in the North.
Sorghum is wind-pollinated, but it will not cross with anything except other sorghum varieties. It is wise to grow just one variety a year to avoid contamination; otherwise, caging techniques can be employed to avoid crossing varieties. Allow seeds to dry on the plants. They can be hand picked or you can cut the flower head off , place in a bag and hit with a rubber mallet or stomp on it to release the seeds from the chaff . Seeds will remain viable for up to 5 years.