Sugarcane Grown

Sugarcane is the common name of a species of herb belonging to the grass family. The official classification of sugarcane is Saccharum officinarum, and it belongs to the family Gramineae. It is common in tropical and subtropical countries throughout the world. It can grow from eight to twenty feet tall, and is generally about 2 inches thick. Several different horticultural varieties are known, and they differ by their stem color and length (Anonymous, 1998). The common sugarcane has been cultivated since ancient times. The most widely used form of cultivation is by stem cuttings, since many varieties do not produce fertile seeds (Microsoft, 1994). According to Helen Boyel, (1939) this is one of the many species of plants that would not survive without human intervention. It is a very easy, and profitable plant to grow, but does not naturally reproduce very effectively. The sugarcane was one of the first "cash crops" of early colonial America. It grew plentifully in the southern states, and was a major source of income for many plantations. It is grown readily in the United States in Hawaii, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico. The countries that produce the largest amounts of sugarcane are Brazil, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Mexico, India, and Australia (Microsoft, 1994).

Sugarcane cannot be easily harvested by machine, so for centuries it has been harvested by hand, using large machete like blades. For this reason sugarcane fields have very large amounts of farm hands, and are a major source of employment throughout South America, Central America, and even the Caribbean. In early America, when the plant was readily harvested, it was a major source of slavery in the south. However, with the advent of abolition, it was found that sugarcane could be imported cheaper than it could be grown (Microsoft, 1994). This is why the sugarcane industry in the United States has diminished so sharply since the Civil War. The primary use for sugarcane is to process sugar, which can then be used in an infinite number of products. The type of sugar produced by sugarcane is called sucrose. This is the most important of all the sugars. Sucrose is used as a sweetening agent for foods and in the manufacture of cakes, candies, preservatives, soft drinks, alcohol, and numerous other foods. Although the use of sugar in the human diet is controversial, sucrose supplies about 13 percent of all energy that is derived from foods (Escalona, 1952).

Over half of the World's sugar supply is derived from the sugarcane (Microsoft, 1994). The sugarcane producing countries are not given much credit for supplying the world with a major source of food and nutrition, but they are given plenty of credit for being a world leader in making money. Billions of dollars are generated every year due to the sugarcane plants that are grown in the west alone. Also of significance is the number of jobs that are created every year to harvest the sugarcane plant in small and underprivileged countries (Escalona, 1952). When sugarcane is harvested it is stripped of its leaves and sent to the sugar factory. At the factory the stems are crushed and shredded by rollers in a process called grinding. During grinding hot water is sprayed over the shredded material to extract the remaining sugar. The solid waste that is left after extraction of the sugar is known as pulp or sugarcane bagasse, which is dried and used as a fuel (Harris and Staples, 1998).

The raw juice is then heated and spun in a centrifuge at nearly 1500 rotations per minute. The centrifuge walls are pierced with small holes through which a thick syrup is forced out. This syrup is called molasses, and is in itself a very valuable product. The molasses, which ironically is a waste product of sugar refining, can be sold as syrup, to flavor rum and other foods, to feed animals, or even as an additive for ethyl alcohol. Molasses is even used in processed tobaccos (Harris and Staples, 1998). After bagasse and molasses are separated from the sugar, the sugar is sent to the refinery. Here sugar is redissolved, decolorized, and recrystallized into the desired size. After the refinery the finished product is established in the form of powdered, granulated, and lump sugars. Brown sugar is also a product created in the refinery. This is simply sugar that has residual molasses in it. Sugar is not only a well known home food additive, but also plays a large role in industrial fermentation. Sugar is a raw material used in the fermentation of ethyl alcohol, butyl alcohol, glycerin, citric acid, and levulinic acid. Sugar is also an ingredient in many soaps, and can be converted into industrial resins (Harris and Staples, 1998).

The difficulty encountered in getting sugarcane to reproduce has begun to cause a global dilemma. World overpopulation, coupled with an increase in the industrial use of sugar has opened the eyes of many scientists. The demand for sugar is greatly outpacing the ability to produce sugarcane (Lorenzo and Gonzalez, 1998). While this is beneficial to many sugar producing countries, it is tremendously disastrous for the rest of the world. Cuba, for instance, has seen a fourfold increase in the demand for its sugar, but has actually decreased the number of acres in which it plants sugarcane (Escalona, 1962). This is very important, because Cuba is the United States' largest supplier of sugar. Continuing this inattention to the global need for commercially processed sugarcane could lead to a world-wide shortage of this sweet substance. To help curb the world shortage of sugar scientists have begun cultivating sugarcane shoots in laboratories using a temporary immersion system. This system allows for a longer growing season for sugarcane, because the shoots could be planted inside, and then planted and harvested earlier. This might allow for two different harvests in one year, which would double global sugarcane production. Also of much importance is the fact that this temporary immersion system reduces planting costs by 46%, and performs similarly to conventionally grown sugarcane, Finally, by growing sugarcane in a sterile laboratory, the amount of time that sugarcane in exposed to the elements is limited, and therefore chance of healthier plants increases (Lorenzo and Gonzalez, 1998). This means less susceptibility to insects, drought, frost, and predators.

In conclusion, there is a great demand for sugarcane in the world's economy because of the demand for sugar, and its byproducts. This demand is not being met by the relatively shrinking supply of commercially grown sugar in tropic regions. If science could continue researching, and enhance the methods used to grow common sugarcane, a global sugar shortage could be averted. So, you want to grow your own sugarcane! Or you’re wondering, what kind of North American nut-case not living in Hawaii wants to grow sugar cane? Either way, read on for sugary enlightenment. frequently come up with some pretty crazy ideas for our house and our garden (just ask my wife. . . and expect eye-rolling to accompany the answer). Growing sugar cane was one of them. Yes, we live in San Diego. . . . not really known for it’s sugar cane. No, none of our neighbors grow it, unless you count “Mexico” as a neighbor. This uniqueness makes it all the more fun to grow! Naturally, if I lived in Hawaii, I’d try to grow cacti, or maybe papyrus. The good news is if you live in a tropical or subtropical area (or anyplace that’s warm and has lots of water), you’re in luck!

Sugarcane has lots of positives:
1) Very easy to grow and propagate . . . great for plant killers
2) It looks cool, kinda like bamboo with longer leaves
3) If you grow it outside a tropical zone, your neighbors will refer to you as “eccentric”
4) You can eat it (or make juice from it). Yummy
5) Slicing the stalks into segments lengthwise makes them into great skewers for bbq’ing shrimp. Also yummy
6) Makes a good privacy screen to shield your crazy activities from the neighbors. Not yummy, but useful
It also has a couple negatives:
1) The leaves are sharp. Don’t plant a field of sugarcane and then run through it lightly clothed . . . you’ll die
2) Occasional dry leaf removal is required (see note above, use gloves and long sleeves)
3) Ants like it too
4) Starting your own residential sugar plantation and becoming a sugar baron may make neighbors jealous
Now that you’ve decided growing sugar cane is a brilliant idea, here’s how to grow it: First, you’ll need to find a stalk of sugarcane. Ethnic markets sometimes have them. You can also find it for sale with some online tropical plant nurseries. Make sure the stalk has at least one bud (you can identify the bud by a ring that goes around the stalk, similar to the rings on bamboo). This is where the new stalk will grow from. Take your prized cutting and lay it horizontally in your soil. If you’re planting in a container, plant it low enough in the pot that you can add a few inches of soil above it. For planting directly in the soil, just dig a trench a few inches deep and plant your cutting there. Cover with soil and keep things moist. Within a few weeks, you should see a new stalk called a ratoon sprout up. If you’re in a warm area and the plant gets water regularly, the sugarcane will grow fast. Within a year or two you might have a half dozen or more stalks growing in a clump. You can then do multiple harvests. If you harvest enough times, you may need to replant due to diminishing returns.

Sugar cane looks like bamboo because they have stems with nodes, or rings of root buds. The stalks are encased with long leaves and a leaf bud. It is easy to grow and can be eaten raw or the cab be boiled. Commercial sugar comes from sugar cane. You can usually find sugar cane in Latin markets. For an effective display, plant a few stalks in a window planter. In the United States, sugar cane production is mainly in Hawaii and the southern states. The best climate for the sugar-cane is that of tropical or sub-tropical regions. Although sometimes grown in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, it cannot be depended upon as a crop farther north than Louisiana. The principal varieties of the plant are the Creole, called also Malabar, the Otaheite, and the Batavian. The plants are, in our Southern States, put in between January and March; October is the season for gathering the crop. At that time the slips or cuttings are selected for setting out, as the cane is never grown from seed. On general principles we venture to suggest that final deterioration is probable in any plant which is never renewed from seed.

For planting, after breaking up the land, furrows are run four, six or eight feet apart; in these the slips, each having several joints, are laid, from two to five feet apart, and covered not very deeply. The spaces between the rows are ploughed or hoed well. In Louisiana three crops will successively follow from a single planting; in the West Indies one laying will last from ten to twenty years. The yield of sugar to the acre is from 500 to 5000 or more lbs. to the acre; never more than 2000 in this country. When ripe the canes are cut down close to the ground and stripped of the leaves, which are left to shelter the roots through the winter. This trash is now and then burned or ploughed under. The lowest part of the cane is richest in sugar. All parts of the plant make good fodder.

As soon as cut the canes should be taken to the mill, before fermentation sets in. There are many kinds of mills in use, from the simplest to the most powerful steam apparatus. In them all the canes are crushed repeatedly, so that the juice runs out below; but a great deal of sugar yet remains in the bagasse. The crude syrup contains various impurities, and should be at once strained through copper or iron wire into the clarifying vessels. Then it is boiled for concentration, lime being added in just sufficient quantity to neutralize the free acid, which is known by its no longer reddening litmus paper. The heat used should not be more than is necessary for boiling. In about twenty-four hours crystalization begins. The molasses is then drained out from hogsheads bored at the bottom. This process requires from three to six weeks before it is fit for shipping, but it continues to deposit or drip molasses for some time afterwards. Refining or whitening the sugar is performed in various ways, the most useful agent for the purpose being animal charcoal or bone-black.