Photo and article by Donna Iverson
It looked like sweet corn but it wasn’t. In fact, it was sorghum. And the person in the adjacent community garden bed was growing it. Like every curious home gardener, I wanted to know more. Why grow sorghum and what were they going to do with it? Nothing like a garden mystery to brighten my day.
So I eventually tracked down the grower, Peter Stoeckle of Muskegon and asked him.
Turns out, he grows something new every summer, something that he has never grown before. And sorghum was his latest experiment. It was definitely healthy and growing well.. over six feet tall and lording it over the surrounding veggie plants.
In fact, Stoeckle is in the vanguard of a new trend..as sorghum is undergoing a revival of sorts. The regenerative farming people are growing sorghum for its ability to thrive in poor soil and drought conditions. In drought conditions it goes dormant until revived by a rainfall. It has been called a “camel” crop ..a tough plant for tough times, according NPR garden commentator Dan Charles.
Growing sorghum in your garden improves the soil ..it is nitrogen fixing. Next year’s veggie plants will benefit from the regenerated soil. It is also a weed suppressor and while sorghum does not produce cobs like corn, it can be made into sweet syrup or a gluten-free grain. Or if nothing else, the kernels can be used to make popcorn.
In the US, sorghum is a major source of feed for livestock like chicken and pigs and is also turned into ethanol. It is the fifth most commonly grown grain after wheat, rice, corn and barley, Sorghum, when turned into grain for human consumption, is gluten free and highly nutritious. It is high in protein, iron, magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc and potassium. It is not genetically modified, although DuPont is working on that. ..sigh.
Backyard gardeners and farmers mostly grow it to make a sweet syrup. To do this, you need at least four 100 foot rows of sorghum. In the fall, you will need to process it. An inexpensive hand-cranked press is available from www.grainmaker.com. Cooking down the syrup can be done over a backyard fire pit. Instructions are at motherearthnews.com/sorghum-production
And what is Stoeckle’s next experimental crop: buckwheat. If he makes sorghum syrup to go with buckwheat pancakes....I’m in.