Cane sugar, molasses, and sugar cane syrup are all the sweet produce of the sugar cane plant. The tropical Asian grass known as sugar cane requires ample moisture to grow well. Commercial production is carried out mainly in Brazil and India*; but hobby growers are raising plants throughout the tropics and sub-tropics.
Sugar cane growing in Maui, Hawaii.
There are several varieties of sugar cane displaying waxy stalks from
green to red to nearly black. The stalks can grow to a height of 15
feet and are as thick as a small child's wrist. They look a lot like
Each stalk is topped by about 10 green leaves, similar to those of the corn plant, which are attached alternately to it. The leaf edges are sharp enough to cut skin.
The sugar cane plant is a heavy feeder and needs to be planted on rich soil. This is why it performs so well in the volcanic soil of Hawaii.
If you are growing your own patch of chewing cane, give it a high nitrogen fertilizer monthly throughout the growing season. Withhold food for the 6-8 week period just prior to harvest in order to sweeten the canes.
This is an antique sugar cane grabber on display at the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum on the island of Maui.
Under the right conditions the plants will flower and produce seeds, but these are not generally used. Sugar cane is planted commercially by stem cuttings from the top third of the stalks.
Sometimes this operation is carried out by hand. More often by a mechanical harvester. Another machine opens and closes the soil around the cuttings.
Expect to wait 14-16 months for the stems of your sugar cane plant to ripen for cutting.
*Sugar cane is being produced commercially in the United States in South Florida near Lake Okeechobee where killing freezes seldom occur.
The production area is so small that most visitors (and many Florida residents) are not aware that there are cane fields here.
Other U.S. states growing sugar cane commercially include Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii. Surprisingly, there is more sugar cane produced in Florida than in any of the other states.
Labor and shipping costs are very high in Hawaii. By the year 2000 there were only 3 farms (1 on Maui and 2 on Kauai) still in operation.
As of 2009 less than 23,000 acres were still in production compared to 401,000 acres in Florida.
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