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Broom Corn Harvest!

October 22, 2014various broom sizes

October is a month full of harvests! Harvesting is when farmers pick or cut the crops in their field and use the plants for food or other things. Many Iowa farmers are busy right now harvesting corn–for animals to eat and for people to eat.

At Living History Farms, we also have a special type of corn that is not for eating at all! Instead, it is harvested to make brooms! Brooms are made from a plant called broomcorn. Broomcorn is a type of sorghum plant. It is different from the corn that people and animals eat. This “corn” does not have ears filled with kernels. Instead it grows swishy tassels at the very top! These long tassels are what broom makers use to make brooms.

broomcorn seedsThe seeds of the plant are very small. Farmers plant broomcorn sometime between the middle of May and the middle of June. Farmers plant the seeds 2 inches apart in rows that are 28 inches to 48 inches apart.

broomcorn starting to tassel

Broom corn plants grow slowly at first, but after they are a foot tall they grow very rapidly. There are many varieties of broom corn, from dwarf types that grow short to really tall types.

Farmers harvest the broom corn based on when they feel it has the best “brush” or tassel for making brooms. Some farmers feel the best brush is harvested when the plant is in flower, or at most when the seed is only slightly formed. At Living History Farms, we usually harvest the plant in the middle of October when it looks like this.

fully grown broomcornWhen the farmer feels the broom corn is ready, the plant is tabled. Our farmers walk through the corn patch and bend the stalk over like this.

tabled broomcornTabling is when the stalks of the plant are bent over, about 30” from the ground, towards the next row in a diagonal direction. As the stalks are bent over the next row it creates the look of a table top in the field. Doing this allows the tassels to stay straight as they continue to lengthen.

broom corn tassels with seeds

sorted broomcornWhen it is time to bring the tassels out of the field, the tassels are cut off with about 8” of stalk on them. The farmer then takes the tassels to a building that has slotted shelves to place the tassels on. These shelves allow the tassels to completely dry in a flat position. The seeds are then combed off the tassels and the tassels taken apart in order to separate the fibers by length. The sorted tassels are then placed into bundles and the different length bundles are sold to broom making factories. The factories then use the broomcorn to make different styles of brooms to be sold at stores. At Living History Farms, our broom corn factory still makes brooms using machines over one hundred years old!


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  • Elodie Opstad says:

    I need to see the pictures on the Broomcorn article but they are not showing. Can you email the article to me? I write a column on Warren County history for our newspaper.

    • Living History Farms says:

      Sorry for the inconvenience. The photos should be visible now. Let us know if you still have any issues.

  • Jan Munn says:

    Great info. I am about to harvest my first crop of Broomcorn. I live in North Florida and yes we are harvesting in July. What can I do with the stalks?

  • Joan says:

    Thanks very much for the information. I’m growing broom corn for the first time in Vermont. I wasn’t sure when and how to harvest but now I feel more confident.

  • Linda ditsler says:

    I am harvesting my first broom corn in Marion Indiana. I plan to make a wreath.

  • Dlrmackey says:

    About how many plants are needed to make one broom – allowing for less some than perfect plants?

    • Kate Meyer says:

      We would estimate you’d need 4-5 plants for a cake tester–with this the tassels on the plant can be shorter–even 10 inches long. For a children’s broom or whisk broom they need to be 12 to 18 inches generally. For kitchen brooms we use a 22 inch long tassel. For number of plants, we estimate 4-5 plants for a cake tester, and 42 plants for a full size kitchen broom. This is for a standard sized kitchen broom, but if you don’t mind something thinner or more irregular, you could probably get a round hearth broom/besom broom with 30 plants and a children’s broom/whisk broom with 25 to 30 plants.

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