Broom Corn (sorghum saccharatum), a plant which is a native of India, and is cultivated in Europe and America, having a jointed stem like a reed, usually rising to the height of from 6 to 10 ft., bearing an effuse spike, of which brooms are made. It has yellow oval seeds, villous oblong florets, and broad lanceolate leaves. The introduction of broom corn as an agricultural product into this country is attributed to Dr. Franklin. He is said to have accidentally seen an imported whisk of corn in the possession of a lady of Philadelphia, and while examining it as a curiosity saw a seed, which he planted, and from this small beginning has sprung the present product of this article in the United States. The cultivation of the broom corn is now very extensively carried on in most parts of the United States, especially by some branches of the society of Shakers, and the manufacture of it into brooms is an important industry. The seed of the broom corn is excellent for fattening sheep. It is also fed with advantage to horses and poultry, and, when ground with Indian corn, rye, oats, or barley, to cattle. Ground and mixed with wheat bran, it is good for milch cows. It is considered by some to be worth as much per bushel, when fully ripened and well cured, as Indian corn.
It may be dried on barn or garret floors, and the ground is often used for the purpose. Frequent stirring, while drying, is essential. It should be run through a fanning mill before grinding. As to the yield of seed, it is somewhat precarious; yet it will often more than pay the whole expense of cultivation and preparing the crop for market. In some cases 150 bushels of good seed have been obtained from an acre, but this is a rare yield. The harvesting of the crop most generally commences while the seed is in its earliest stage, or milky state, as the early harvested broom is the brightest and best; consequently there must be a sacrifice of more or less seed. Alluvial lands are the best for raising broom corn; yet almost any soil that will raise good maize will produce a tolerable crop of broom. It will pay well for manuring and for careful culture. No crop is more beautiful in appearance than the standing corn, when in perfection. It often attains to a height of 12 or 15 ft. The stalks of the plant are long and hard, and are considered of but little consequence, except for manure.
However, cattle having access to them before the frost will feed well upon their leaves. - The planting is generally done with a machine, drawn by a horse, in rows 3 ft. apart, wide enough for the cultivator or plough to pass conveniently. The seed is dropped in hills from 16 to 18 inches apart, four quarts of seed being sufficient to plant an acre. The seed will germinate and the blade make its appearance in four or five days, if the weather is favorable and the soil productive.
Broom (Spartium scoparium).
Broom Corn (Sorghum vulgare).
It may be manured in the hill, or by spreading the manure upon the ground, or in both ways if high cultivation is desired. One man, with a horse and a machine that will plant two rows at the same time, may plant from 10 to 12 acres in a day. The labor of one hand four months will cultivate about six acres, and harvest the same, and the average produce per acre is about 500 lbs. After the corn is well up, the cultivator can be profitably used three or four times before hoeing, after which commences the weeding and thinning. As a general rule, two hoeings are sufficient. At the last time, and when the corn is 10 or 12 inches high, the Shakers use a double-moulded plough, which turns a furrow each way. Planting may be performed with safety from the middle of May to the 1st of June, and even later if the season is good. The usual practice in harvesting is to bend the stems or stalks of the corn some 2 1/2 or 3 ft. from the ground, and leave them for a few days to dry. They are then cut 6 or 8 inches from the brush, and laid into heaps, ready to be carried to the scraper.
The seed is removed from the brush by various methods, from the best horse-power scraping machines, by which the brush of three acres of corn may be cleaned in a day, down to the original hand machines of the simplest construction. That part of the stalk still remaining in the field should be ploughed under during the fall, or in the following spring. The practice of the Shakers is to break them down with a heavy drag in the spring following, and plough them under, and then run over the ground with a large roller, which process prepares the land again for planting. Some carry their stalks into the cattle or sheep yards, where they become incorporated with the manure, and thereby make a valuable addition to the compost. - When the broom corn was first introduced by the united society of Shakers in Watervliet, N. Y., in the year 1791, it was raised in the garden as other corn. In 1798 it began to excite attention, and some new brooms were manufactured by them for the market, and sold at the price of 50 cents each. The handles were made of soft maple timber, and turned in a common foot lathe. The machinery for manufacturing the brooms was very simple.
It consisted of nothing more than a roller or cylinder of wood, turned by a short crank for the purpose of winding on the cord or twine; and by placing one or both feet against this cylinder, the tightness of the twine was governed, and the broom made by holding the handle in one hand, and applying the brush with the other, while winding. The next process, by way of improvement, some few years after, was the addition of a bench to the roller, in a frame fastened to the bench, and a rag-wheel to hold the cord when wound upon the roller by a short crank as before. Nearly all the Shakers1 societies in the United States are more or less engaged in this branch of employment; but the societies at Watervliet, N. Y., and that at Union village, O., carry it on the most extensively. The census of the United States for 1870 gives no statistics respecting broom corn.