At this time of year, a lot of our activities revolve around harvesting and processing sorghum and food from the garden. We have a lot of visitors that come to help with the sorghum harvest- so scheduling, hosting, and integrating them into our scene is also important.
Sorghum harvest: we plan/hope to be done on Wednesday, the day this paper comes out – mostly because of the 3 nights of frost we had beginning Oct 6. Until then, our harvest was progressing normally: we had a group of 7 folks from East Wind Community in southern MO and with them we harvested more than half of our crop. This consists of stripping the leaves off by hand, snapping off the seed heads, cutting the stalks with machetes, and putting them in small bundles in the field.
After 4 – 7 days, which allows the canes to dry (moisture escapes – but not the sugars), we pick them up, squeeze the juice out of them with our press, and cook the juice into syrup. It sounds simple, but it takes quite a few folks to operate our system: 2 to feed the sorghum canes into the press, 1 to oversee & make sure everything is running smoothly and to stack the pressed canes (called pommies) on the wagon. Another person feeds the wood fired steam boiler and makes sure there is always enough water in the boiler. We usually have 2 folks in the sugar shack overseeing the boiling/cooking operation (and also to make sure that the boiler is running smoothly, and orient new folks who come to feed the boiler). Another person bottles the sorghum. In the meantime, we have a crew of 3-4 going to the field with a tractor & wagon to get more cane. Most of us don’t like to do the same thing for a long time, so we have a sign-up sheet for all the different jobs with specified times so that folks can do various jobs during the day. In between times, we also label jars. So – it takes quite a crew during processing days. It takes about 3 days in the field to get enough sorghum stalks for one day of processing.
Frost is always in the back of our minds at this time of year. Usually it takes a frost of 29 or lower to freeze the sorghum stalks. Then, we have 4-7 days to process the sorghum before it sours/spoils (depending on the weather – warm days make it spoil faster). The weekend of October 6 we had 3 consecutive nights of frost. The first morning, 3 of us went to the field to assess the damage – the tops of the canes were definitely frozen. We decided to go into high gear: cut down the sorghum with the leaves on. We also had another field of sorghum already laying down and it would take us 2 days to process each field.
That Saturday morning, we put out a call for help to our neighboring communities: Dancing Rabbit and Red Earth Farms. By coincidence, Dancing Rabbit was celebrating its 15 year anniversary that weekend and had a lot of folks visiting. Many came to help us that afternoon, so that we had about 35 folks in the field and we harvested the entire 1 acre field that day. It was exciting and exhilarating for all involved.
Now, a week later, it appears that the crop was not actually damaged by the frost. Other years, it definitely was – in similar circumstances.
In our gardens, we harvested a lot of the peppers, squash, and Asian pears the night before the frost. Some of the plants had been covered with remay- it helps in marginal conditions.
To help with the sorghum harvest, we had crews from fellow communities: East Wind in S MO, Acorn & Twin Oaks from Virginia, as well as other folks, especially from St Louis and the Dancing Rabbit anniversary. It makes such a difference: instead of the harvest dragging on for weeks – it transforms it into a harvest celebration/festival.