Making Sorghum Molasses
by Edwin McCoy. Reprinted from This Week, Lewisburg, WV
David Buhrman is keeping a tradition alive – not so much for tradition’s sake, but for his own practical purposes as he and his wife, Rose, go about building their farm some seven miles off Rt. 219 near Friars Hill.
It was not unusual some years ago in mid-October to find many mountain people readying a field of sorghum for the crusher and boiling vat as they worked to render it into molasses. But that yearly activity gradually declined with the increased availability of other commercial sweetners and sugars.
For Burhman, making sorghum molasses was more or less a necessary switch. He had been depending on several hives of bees to provide him with honey, but he and the bees didn’t get along well. “Sorghum is a much safer way to get a sweetner”, Buhrman related. “I still keep one hive of bees for pollination, but any honey they make is theirs.”
Basically a homesteader, Buhrman came to Greenbrier County about eight years ago and bought 75 acres of land on Brushy Flats. He’s been improving parts of that land gradually, and is producing several “labor intensive” crops in an effort to generate some income from the land.
“Basically, I wanted to homestead, but I wanted to do some farming on a small scale, too – we wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible,” Buhrman explained. “But it’s economically difficult to be a small farmer. Actually, I’ve kind of grown into it. I learned you have to be a self-starter to be a farmer, although there is a lot of free time.”
Buhrman’s farm is now producing several berry crops, vegetables that he sells locally, a pumpkin crop, and the sorghum.
“We have just a small number of usable acres, so we’ve gone to the labor intensive crops, such as strawberries, tomatoes, sorghum, that require more labor, but you get a better price for them, too,” Buhrman explained. “With three acres of wheat, I might get $120 an acre off of it, but with labor intensive crops I can get a better price – as much as $1000 an acre.”
From the acre of sorghum he planted this spring on a piece of land he is renting, Buhrman expects to get about 50 gallons of syrup, not as much as he had hoped. “You can get up to 150 gallons an acre, but we won’t get that,” he said. “The fertility of the soil is a factor – it’s not in good shape, and the weather had something to do with it. Sorghum likes hot weather and it hasn’t been a hot summer.”