The lowdown on sorghum, maize and gathering grains

Wondering about the differences between maize and sorghum and what the best methods are for gathering grains? This information can serve as a quick reference.

The lowdown on sorghum, maize and gathering grains

Sorghum versus maize

Sorghum resembles maize but has narrower leaves and no ears. It comes in several different types, including grain, sweet and broomcorn. Grain sorghum grows over a metre (three feet) tall, and its seeds are used mainly for animal feed. The seeds also make nutritious porridge and pancakes. Sweet sorghum is raised for syrup and silage, and broomcorn is valued for the long, springy bristles of its seed heads, used in making brooms.

Sorghum will tolerate heat and even drought well. It should be planted about 10 days after maize. Maize and sweet corn that is raised as a vegetable are the same species, but maize is not sweet. Maize is used for animal feed, cornstarch and a variety of breakfast cereals and snack foods. Maize is taller and yields more heavily than sweet corn but is planted and cultivated in the same way. It can be harvested easily after the plants are dead and dry by snapping the ears off the stalks. The harvested ears of maize should be taken under shelter as soon as possible to protect them from rain and mold, and husked before storing.

From field to flour

Harvesting is the same for all grains other than corn:

  • After the grain has been cut, gather the stalks into sheaves and stack them to dry in the field until no trace of green is left
  • To thresh the grain, lay the sheaves on an old sheet on a hard surface and hit the seed heads with a flail or broomstick to knock the seeds loose
  • Separate the grain from the chaff, or loose husks, by tossing it in a sheet outdoors on a breezy day, or by pouring grain and chaff back and forth from one container to another. On a calm day a fan can supply the air current
  • Store grain in a covered metal or wooden bin that has been rodent-proofed with wire mesh. Stored grain must be kept thoroughly dry to prevent the development of mold
  • Grain can be ground in a small mill designed for home use (some of them are equipped with revolving stones to duplicate traditional stone-ground flour). Small batches can be run through a heavy-duty food blender

Gathering the grain

  • Make a sheaf by tying an armful of grain stalks into a bundle. Use twine or twist grain stems into a cord
  • Stack the sheaves together to make a shock. Leave them outdoors to dry in the sun. Do not store damp grain
  • Thresh the grain to separate the kernels. A simple flail can be made of two sticks joined loosely
  • Winnow the threshed grain by using the wind to blow away chaff and other small particles
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