Friday, November 22, 2013

Put your sugar cane bed to sleep

Sugar cane doesn't like the cold. How you prepare it for winter will make the difference between having cane next year and having to pretend you have cane because you DON'T.

Fortunately, sugar cane isn't that hard to care for, provided you know how.

For the last three years, I've kept my sugar cane coming back every spring. It's dead simple, but you have to time it out well or you risk exposing plants to rot-inducing frosts.

Here's how to do it in two steps.

Step 1: Harvest Your Cane Before Frost

Sugar cane originated in the tropics so it's not used to seasons of freezing weather. It grows when the weather is warm, slows down when it gets chilly out, and dies if it freezes. You have to keep a balance when you grow it outside the idyllic tropical islands where sugar cane is really happy.

What balance?

Well, you want your sugar canes to be as big as possible when you harvest them, so you can make as much delicious syrup (or rum) as you can. Cutting early means you're short-circuiting your potential gains. You also run the risk of having new canes re-grow, which then get nailed by the cold. If you wait too long to harvest, however, you run the risk of having the sugar cane crop killed by frost. Here in North Florida, I cut it in mid-November. If I knew a frost was coming, I'd chop them the day before it came through.

Cut close to the ground when you harvest, too - it'll make the next step easier.

Step 2: Strip the Canes and Mulch

Rip off all the sugar cane leaves as you harvest and use them to cover your cane bed. It's also a good idea to gather extra leaves or straw to make sure the roots will not see freezing temperatures.

This is no time for aesthetics! Make sure you have a good solid few inches of cover over your sugar cane crop's roots and you'll be set. It's hard to do, but make sure that all new growth is chopped and added to the mulch. As temperatures fall, the cane will simply quit growing and will likely not reappear until March or April.

Do this and you should be able to reap cane from the same bed for as long as a decade.

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At November 22, 2013 at 8:55 AM , Blogger Ivy Mae said...

Do I need to mulch if I just planted cane pieces? They don't have roots, so I'm guessing it will be okay?

At November 22, 2013 at 9:32 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

If they're beneath a couple inches of dirt, you'll be fine. Thanks for stopping by!

At November 22, 2013 at 6:18 PM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

awww, you just threw all those cane leaves on the ground? that seems like such a shame. don't chickens eat sugar cane, maybe chopped up? i'm sure rabbits would. or a soothing warm tea for the humans. then cover the roots with several inches of animal manure mixed with mulch for the winter. chicken or rabbit would keep the roots warm enough, i'm sure.

At November 22, 2013 at 6:36 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Chrissy! Good to see you again.

I needed some kind of mulch so I used what was handy. If I had rabbits, I'd totally try the leaves on them. I'll bet you're right about a manure/mulch mix keeping them warm, though I might worry a bit about giving them a hit of nitrogen when I want them to sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

At December 5, 2013 at 8:44 PM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

can't you get free mulch from your county? ours here is limbs and leaves that people bring for disposal, the county grinds it and piles it up. it ages quickly, and is nutrient-balanced because it is greens and browns - that green shoots and small twigs have less carbon than the thicker pieces. errr, so i've read anyway. i also occasionally grab nice chunks of cut wood for cooking over the fire, all for free for the privilege of paying taxes.
the canes won't get much nitrogen from the manure after you first lay it down because it barely rains this time of year to wash it into the soil. could always throw a layer of newspaper over the top of the manure to really keep the moisture out and the plants warm. then remove or shred up in the spring.
did you try giving some to your chickens?

At December 5, 2013 at 8:58 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

We don't have a service like that out where I am, but I did have luck getting tree guys to drop a load of shredded mulch one time. It was just like you said: green and brown together. Instant compost mix.

I didn't try giving the chickens any. In fact, I sold my chickens, believe it or not. I was way too busy traveling, writing and gardening to take proper care of a flock... I really miss the eggs.

Next experiment: raising mealworms for protein. ;)

At December 6, 2013 at 11:46 AM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

mealworms for protein for chickens...right?
bummer that you are so busy you don't have time for them. that's really busy!!

At December 6, 2013 at 11:52 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

No... protein for ME! They look like Chinese noodles... I'm totally down with that.

Yeah. Too much work. It's good work, though. I'm working on a seed-saving comic book right now and I'm happy with how it's turning out.

At November 15, 2014 at 9:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you use pine straw for bedding cain and how?


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