Growing and pressing sorghum is a fun crop to have in your garden rotation for homegrown sugar. Sorghum stalks are filled with a sugar-rich sap that once pressed out takes just a short bit of boiling to get syrup.
Growing sorghum is similar to growing corn. Look for cultivars that specialize in being pressed for sugar over ones that favor its grain production. Direct sow after the last frost in a bed prepared with high fertility with 1/4″ depth. Space similarly to corn with rows 3-4′ and 8″ in row. Overseeding is fine as you can thin as they grow up.
Harvest sorghum when the grains on its seedhead reach soft dough stage. This means that the grain has filled in and no longer exudes a milky ooze when bitten. They should be red colored. This happens usually towards the end of September and early October here in Western Pennsylvania.
To harvest pull all the leaves off in the field, which can be done by hand. Using a pair of snips cut off the seedhead. These can be saved and used as grain and/or seeds for next year. Then cut down the stalk using a machete, sickle, or other method and stack the stalks.
Sorghum stalks are firm but can snap easily. If it happens its not a big deal but it helps to keep in mind where you’re planning to press to minimize moving them around.
We’ve tried pressing sorghum a couple of different ways. The first time we tried we used a wooden hand-cranked apple crusher. It was immediately obvious that we were missing out on a lot of juice. A proper pressing mechanism is handy.
A tabletop sugarcane press does a great job. They seem to cost around $100- $250, but can do a lot of sorghum every year.
Get a friend and start cranking. Do a handful of stalks at a time according to how much your machine and cranker can handle. Usually we’ll have one person feed the stalks and the other turn the crank as the juice flows out to a pot below.
Sorghum syrup boils down at a 10:1 ratio rather than 60:1 like maple sap. It’s a much quicker process and one I don’t mind doing on my home stove, as it’ll be just a few short hours.
Boiling will make a lot of crud on the top so skim the surface throughout the process. Boiling is done when a the sorghum reaches you desired syrup consistency. If you have a hydrometer, 74 Brix is the level of store-sold syrup. We fill them in mason jars hot and flip upside down for a seal.
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