Sunflowers come in all shapes and sizes. From the miniature teddy bear sunflower to the towering titan variety gardeners have their choice in regards to this wonderful American native. Colors range from nostalgic yellow to lovely maroon hues.
On our urban farm we prefer to grow giant sunflowers. They serve a number of practical purposes. They provide an inviting natural hedge between neighbors. They are a healthy source of food for our chickens and rabbits that eat the leaves, seeds and heads. They also provide a snack for our children in the form of salted seeds. We use their massive stalks as a trellis for runner beans. Pollinators love to comb sunflowers for their thick yellow pollen. We are also a family of bird watchers and we love to spend a nice summer afternoon watching the birds swoop from one head to another in search of seed. Sunflowers are great for cut flowers as well.
Though they provide a number of beneficial aspects for our homestead the real fun is simply growing them with my children in an effort to beat our previous years record for height. Sunflowers are actually a great plant to grow with children because they grow extraordinarily quick and the seed is easy to handle.
So, how do we do it?
Step 1: Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Sunflowers are heavy feeders so we use green manure from our compost bin, rabbit and chicken manure.
Step 2: This may seem obvious but your choice of seed matters. Investigate varieties such as mammoth or titan sunflowers for maximum growth. You will want to plant your seed 1 inch deep and leave close to 6 inches between plants for best results.
Step 3: Location is important as well. Sunflowers tend to grow best in full sunlight so pick a spot that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.
Once the plant is established you can cut down your watering cycle to once a week. Make sure to water deeply though to ensure strong root growth to support such a large plant.
If you are interested in saving seed from your heirloom sunflowers wait until the back of the head begins to turn yellow. Then remove the seed and put on a cookie sheet in a cool, dry room to with plenty of air circulation in order to prevent mold. Place dry seeds in a jar in the fridge until next season.
If you want to make a tasty snack with your seeds simply allow them to dry on the plant. When fully dry rinse them under water until satisfactorily clean. Allow them to sit overnight in one gallon of water mixed with one cup of salt. Turn your oven to 250 degrees and bake for 4 to 5 hours. Store them in an airtight container for longevity.
It really is that easy. Your neighbors will appreciate them. Your children or grandchildren will have a blast growing them with you and all the wonderful creatures who visit your garden will too!
As a third-generation micro-farmer, Tobias Whitaker had strong early influences in regards to responsibly working the land and taking pride in producing his own food. Tobias is currently working on an urban homesteading book and is also exploring ways to increase his yearly yield and lengthen his growing season. You can visit him on Facebook or find him online at the Seed to Harvest blog. For more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts by Tobias click here.
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