I’ve read articles about growing beets for sugar, but beets are a cold weather crop, something that, other than the last few days, we just don’t have much of here in Zone 10A. (I actually got the idea for this article when I was eating a can of beets this evening, and no I didn’t grow them, see my previous sentence.) That doesn’t mean we cannot grow them, they just do do as well as other options that perform the same end result, making a home grown sweetener of some sort.
Other options for producing my own sweetener that would work here include bees for honey, a natural superfood I could grow in my own yard. In fact, my buddy BlueTang has had a hive in a birdhouse at his place for almost three years, and they swarm about twice a year, having quickly outgrown their little box many times. I’ve watched those bees longingly, wishing to add the next swarm to my back yard. I’ve even become a lurking member of the Treasure Coast Beekeepers Association.
…but I love my wife more than I love the idea of having my own bees. I’ve wanted to raise bees for as long as I can recall, but my wife has firmly planted her foot on this idea with a resounding “NO!“, much to my confusion. Her fear is having bees near the house, though she almost never goes into the back yard, and with our garden, we already have bees here.
Stevia is another option, and I’ve grown it before, but I find it has an aftertaste I don’t like. I actually prefer no sweetener to having stevia in something. If anyone knows of a way to mask the aftertaste, let me know!
Beets represent about 55% of the sugar production in the U.S. So what else is used to produce sugar, particularly here in Florida? Sugarcane!
Sugarcane, a tall perennial grass, is grown in tropical and semitropical climates. After the planting of cane stalk cuttings, the plant matures in 1-2 years. Two to four crops are harvested from the original plantings, unless the plants are impaired or destroyed by frost, disease, or other causes. Once harvested, sugarcane must be processed quickly before its sucrose deteriorates…..Florida is the largest cane-producing region in the United States. Most of the sugarcane is produced in organic soils along the southern and southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee in Southern Florida, where the growing season is long and winters are generally warm. Florida produced an average 1.80 million STRV of sugar in the 2000s.
And what better way to get sugar than grow sugarcane myself? It seems that sugarcane is so prevalent in my area of the world, you could almost drive any back road and snag enough to get you buy from cane growing along the canals. It has escaped cultivation, naturalized, and is now fairly common along ditches and canals here.
Growing it is rather simple too. The hardest part of growing sugarcane is getting a piece of cane. Ethnic markets are probably the best option for finding whole sugarcane, other than a south Florida ditch. Other possibilities would be health food stores a local nursery, green markets or online.
You are looking for a piece of cane with at least two intact rings (“nodes”). Consider each ring to be a security wall, keeping the plant safe from attack. Cut a piece of the sugarcane on the outside of each ring away from each other, leaving two intact rings, at least one of them having a bud, and an intact section between nodes. Plant this in the dirt, water it every day or two, and it should sprout. It is that simple.
I placed my first cane in a self watering container, and it grew and grew and grew, and then I fed the leaves to my rabbits piece by piece. Then I harvested the top 5 feet of the stalk to replant, doubling my sugarcane plantation to FOUR plants!! The remaining bits of cane got chewed up by me and my family. I now have a decent start on sugar production in my back yard. Eventually, I’ll expand out, possibly using it as a fence cover.
Since the rabbits eat it, it grows well in my area, and if need be, I can make sugar out of it, I think this is a pretty decent addition to my backyard homestead.
If you’d like to read more about sugarcane, go over to Green Deans’ website, Eat the Weeds, or his forum where they talk about the range of where sugarcane grows wild.
And for what it’s worth, I don’t have a mule, or a cane press, or have ever made my own sugar…yet. To be honest, if it came down to it, I’d probably just make molasses instead. To me it tastes better, and takes less work to make.
But that’s another topic I’ll go into today…
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