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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Making Sorghum Molasses
Making Sorghum Molasses

David Buhrman examines a jar of sorghum molasses.

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.”

Making Sorghum Molasses

Skimming foreign matter from sorghum vat as it is readied to be boiled down to molasses.

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.”

Making Sorghum Molasses

David Buhrman at the edge of the sorghum field.

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.”

The sorghum in the field looks a great deal like corn, except Buhrman pointed out, it doesn’t have any ears.

In order to turn the stalks of sorghum into molasses, it takes quite a bit of hand labor – to get that labor, Buhrman sharecrops with some of his neighbors. He credits them with the hours they work for him and shares part of the crop with them – he does the same with his berries and other crops, or they trade out labor.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Robert Chamberland of Renick, West Virginia, cuts seed heads off the sorghum stalks before it goes through the crusher.

Growing sorghum doesn’t take much work, according to Buhrman. You plant it in the spring, work it a couple of times and that’s about all that’s required until late in the growing season. That is when the work begins. Before it is cut, all the stalks have to be “bladed” – the leaves removed from the stalks. It’s then cut (this year Buhrman used a corn binder), then the tassles are cut off, and the stalks are fed through a crusher. The crusher forces the juices out of the plant. The sorghum juice is then boiled in a vat for four to five hours until nothing is left but the syrup. That’s bottled and ready for use as a sweetner, for pancakes, as a yeast activator for breads and more.

Buhrman’s first batch of sorghum molasses three years ago was “a little runny,” but since then he’s developed a pretty good idea of what he’s doing. He bought the equipment he needed to crush and boil the syrup from a Butler Mountain man and got his first instructions from him too; plus he got some help from some Pocahontas County friends who make maple syrup.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Glenn Singer and Michelle Paul, both of Friars Hill, feed sorghum stalks into tractor-run crusher. The syrup is collected, after being strained, in the washtub.

This year’s sorghum will be Buhrman’s first real commercial crop, he said, although he has sold some in the past, as he tries to become more efficient. “It wasn’t as slick an operation as it is now, but we get a little more efficient each year,” Buhrman said. “The trick is to get efficient enough that you’re doing something you can afford to do and people can afford to buy it – but you’re still doing it on a human level,” he continued.

Buhrman also likes the idea of neighbors helping neighbors as was the case in preparing the sorghum. “I like the idea of community parties… the idea of having work that you all can work on. You get a real sense of community,” Buhrman said. “The idea of a neighborhood community where you can call on friends on a weekend to raise a barn, move a log cabin or make sorghum.”

Making Sorghum Molasses

Glenn Singer and Michelle Paul feed stalks of sorghum into crusher.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

by:
from issue:

As we start, consider a few things when building a pto cart. Are big drive tires necessary? Is a lot of weight needed? Imagine the cart in use. Try to see it working where you normally go and where you almost never go. Will it be safe and easy to mount or dismount? Can you access the controls of the implement conveniently? Is it easy to hook and unhook? Where is the balance point? I’m sure you will think of other details as you daydream about it.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

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from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Moving Bees

Moving Bees

by:
from issue:

Moving beehives from one location to another is often a necessary step in apiary management. Commercial beekeepers routinely move large numbers of hives often during a season, to pollinate crops, avoid pesticide applications or to utilize specific honey flows. Beekeeping hobbyists may also move bees to distant honey flows or pollination sites, or to bring home a newly purchased hive.

Permanent Corncribs

A short piece on the construction of corncribs.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

Farm Drum 32 Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil

Farm Drum #32: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Finishing the Hook

Pete Cecil demonstrates basic blacksmithing techniques through crafting a hook in the forge.

Blacksmithing Secrets

Blacksmithing Secrets Part 2

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from issue:

One of the main advantages of having a forge in the farm shop is to be able to redress and make and temper tools like cold chisels, punches, screw drivers, picks, and wrecking bars. Tool steel for making cold chisels and punches and similar tools may be bought from a blacksmith or ordered through a hardware store; or it may be secured from parts of old machines, such as hay-rake teeth, pitchfork tines, and axles and drive shafts from old automobiles.

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

by:
from issue:

The scoop has two steel sides about 5 feet apart sitting on steel runners made out of heavy 2 X 2 angle iron, there is a blade that is lowered and raised by use of a foot release which allows the weight of the blade to lower it and then lock in the down position and the forward motion of the horses to raise it and lock it in the up position. This is accomplished by a clever pivoting action where the tongue attaches to the snow scoop.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Horseshoeing Part 2A

Horseshoeing Part 2A

As there are well-formed and badly formed bodies, so there are well-formed and badly formed limbs and hoofs. The form of the hoof depends upon the position of the limb. A straight limb of normal direction possesses, as a rule, a regular hoof, while an oblique or crooked limb is accompanied by an irregular or oblique hoof. Hence, it is necessary, before discussing the various forms of the hoof, to consider briefly the various positions that may be assumed by the limbs.

Horseshoeing Part 2C

Horseshoeing Part 2C

The wear of the shoe is caused much less by the weight of the animal’s body than by the rubbing which takes place between the shoe and the earth whenever the foot is placed to the ground and lifted. The wear of the shoe which occurs when the foot is placed on the ground is termed “grounding wear,” and that which occurs while the foot is being lifted from the ground is termed “swinging-off wear.” When a horse travels normally, both kinds of wear are nearly alike, but are very distinct when the paces are abnormal, especially when there is faulty direction of the limbs.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Collars, Hames and Harness Fitting

Farmers who are good horsemen know everything that is presented here: yet even they will welcome this leaflet because it will refresh their memories and make easier their task when they have to show hired men or boys how to adjust equipment properly. Good horsemen know from long experience that sore necks or sore shoulders on work stock are due to ignorance or carelessness of men in charge, and are inexcusable.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT