Thursday, December 12, 2013

Harvesting Broom Corn

We harvested the broom corn months ago and only recently is it dry enough to work with. This post is the first in a series of posts as I take you through our first experience in broom making. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I invite you to come along with us.

This was our first year growing the giant plant.  Some of the stalks cleared 9 feet tall!
(The seeds we planted right photo)

Broom corn, despite its name, is actually in the sorghum family. It looks very similar to corn in each of it's life cycles.

The stem is smooth with slender knuckles that remind me of bamboo and the leaves are long and papery just like a cornstalk. In fact, we used bunches of broom corn in our autumn decorations instead of cornstalks this year.

Before plastic became really popular (around the 40's and 50's) most brooms were made from broom corn.

The broom corn grows as a large rigid stalk. Near the top of the stalk, just inside a leaf set, it develops a tubular pouch. As the plant grows the pouch opens and a fan tail of hundreds of seeds that grow on long wire like fibers emerges.

Once dry, the seeds can be removed from the stems and the remaining fibers are what create the broom bristles.

This is our first year growing broom corn and we learned a lot through trial and error. One of our main concerns was when to harvest the corn. We wanted to allow the bristles to grow to their maximum length but not too long that they would start to bend over and begin drying in that curved form. We decided to harvest different amounts at different times and see what worked the best.

The first harvest was when the seeds started turning their vibrant colors. The stalks were still green but beginning to dry. We cut the stalks at the ground level to remove them from the field. We brought the bundles up to the house and shortened the stalks at the first leaf. These we gathered in bundles and hung in our back room to dry hanging vertically.

The leftover stalks made wonderful imitation corn stalk decorations for our porch.

This method seemed to work the best. They took a while to dry but the bunches dried straight and don't seem to be any shorter than the bristles that were harvested later in the season.

The second harvest was about a month later, right before the first frost. We brought in most of the remaining field and laid the stalks flat on our enclosed porch.

This worked fine as far as the bristles staying straight, but we were really sad to find that the center of the bunch had molded. I think laying the broom corn flat would have worked if we would have turned the bunches periodically or maybe in not so dense of a pile.

The third harvest was after the remaining field had dried on it's own. These stalks turned the traditional "broom color" which was a golden tan. However, because they dried in the field, the bristles are all curved from gravity pulling them down and might be difficult to make into an attractive broom. The seeds however, were the most vibrant, and these were the few stalks where the rust and red colors transferred to the bristles.

Overall, the first harvest is the most useable gathering and will be what we will use to make brooms.      


Doug in Wisconsin said...

How did your brooms turn out. Sounds like a fun project.

Jennifer Sartell said...

They turned out...ok. Lol Here's a link to one we made. We still have a lot of learning and practice to do.

Charles Carpenter said...

As a teenager, I never cut broomcorn, but I helped harvest. Once the tables were broken and cut, the piles of stalks were placed on a wagon; they were run thru a thresher that removed the seeds; we then handed them in small bunches to a man who laid them on open-air shelves in a shed to dry. My job for a buck an hour was to walk back and forth with bundles between the machine and shed. It took a couple of hours and we started at 4 or 5 p.m.

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