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Sunflowers

There are many types of Sunflowers, from the towering Mammoth to the short Elf. Flowers can measure from 4" to well over 12" across. To top this, there are kinds you can eat and kinds you don t eat but best of all they are easy to grow.


For those interested in growing Sunflowers for snacks or bird feed, we recommend the Mammoth, Paul Bunyan Hybrid and Aztec Gold varieties. If you re more interested in the decorative kinds, those used in arrangements or for a garden spotlight, select the delightful Teddy Bear with its numerous full double golden yellow flowers or the handsome Indian Blanket with a strong branching habit and attractive 4" bicolor flowers that have a soft wine blush that covers all but the clear yellow tips of the petals.


WHEN AND WHERE TO GROW:

Sow outdoors after danger of frost. Sunflowers produce rather large seedlings and prefer to grow where sown. To insure good germination, sow seeds 1/2" deep in groups of 2 or 3 seeds. Space these groups 2 to 4 inches apart. If you plan to grow your Sunflowers in rows, space the rows at least 3 feet apart. After seedlings reach a height of 3 to 4", cut out all but one strong seedling and gradually fill in soil around the remaining seedling. Roots will form along the base of the stalk making the plant more secure and wind-resistant.


Sunflowers face the sun, so it s very important that your planting be made in an open, bright spot in your garden. The tall varieties such as the Mammoth, Paul Bunyan and Aztec Gold will cast a shadow on other plants, so make sure all tall varieties are planted on the north end of your garden.

SOIL REQUIREMENTS:

A light, dry, well-drained soil is preferred. Soil pH can range from 6.0 - 7.5, slightly acid to alkaline. A simple soil test will take the guesswork out of your soils needs. If you plan to grow Sunflowers on a commercial scale, it would probably be wise to have your Local County Agricultural Extension Service test your soil. Under normal conditions, no fertilizer is needed unless the soil is poor. If this is the case, the use of 5 pounds of 5-10-5 complete fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. should be sufficient.

BLOOM SEASON:

Late summer or about 2 to 2-1/2 months after sowing the flower buds should start opening and tracking the sun from dawn to dusk. The decorative types have numerous flowers that should be cut off as they fade. This enables other flowers to open up along the stalk.


Sunflowers used for flower arrangements should have the stems placed in hot water to draw out air and allow water to reach the flower-head and keep it fresh looking.


HARVESTING EDIBLE SUNFLOWER SEED:

Edible kinds will mature in about 3 months or more after sowing. Heads are cut off after the stalks are quite dry but before fall or winter rains come. Check the flower heads for maturity to see if the florets in the center of the flower disk have shriveled and the back of the flower head is turning yellow, or the head is starting to droop. Cut flower-heads with a foot of the stalk attached. Hang heads in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place so the seeds may fully ripen and dry. Cheesecloth, netting or a paper bag with holes punched in for ventilation should be placed over the head to protect the seeds and to collect those that may drop from drying.


If you chose to allow seed heads to ripen on the stalks naturally, tie cheesecloth netting, loosely over the heads to protect seeds from birds and for collecting ripe seed as it dries and drops out. Drying usually takes 3 to 4 weeks after the mature stage is reached. Once thoroughly dried, the seed can be easily rubbed or removed from the flower head. When only a small quantity is produced the seeds may be brushed out of each head separately by using a wire brush, fish scaler, or curry comb.

Commercial growers allow seed heads to thoroughly dry on the stalk before harvesting. In this way, there is no danger of heating or spoiling in storage. Heads are dried singly on boards for about 2 weeks then the dry heads are put through an ordinary thrasher or combine adjusted as for soybeans. The seeds of the large Mammoth Sunflower weigh about 30 pounds per bushel.


STORAGE:

Store loose, dry seeds in small mesh or cheesecloth bags that provide good air circulation. Place these bags in dry areas where they will be free of insects and rodents. Seed must be thoroughly dry before being stored in glass or metal containers. Unprocessed seed will develop mold and spoil.


The maximum moisture content for safe storage, according to the U.S.D.A. is about 11%. By allowing the crop to stand in the field for some time after maturity, the moisture content will drop below the 11% figure.


Seed should never be stored in large quantities in a bin, as it will become musty. When in storage, it should be turned over twice a week.


PREPARATION FOR EDIBLE SEED:

1) After seeds have dried for several days, heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a frying pan. Add the seeds and stir gently or shake the pan as you would popcorn. Some of the seeds may pop so it s a good idea to place a mesh cover over the pan. After the seeds have swelled (in a few seconds) remove from the heat, immediately dry on a paper towel and salt to taste.


-OR-


2) Place the seeds in a bowl. Pour melted butter over them and stir slowly to coat seeds evenly. Remove the seeds with a slotted spoon, spread on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350° for approximately 10 minutes. Cool and salt to taste.


SPROUTING:

Delicious, nutritious, easy to grow year-round. Takes just a minute or two of your attention each day. While growing, sprouts take up little space, so it s a practical, productive hobby. Children love to grow sprouts. More and more people come to enjoy the many ways to use sprouts in their every day meals.

Large seeds such as Sunflowers make delicious sprouts, but remove the shells first. An empty jar, preferably a wide-mouth canning jar with cheesecloth and rubber band provide all the equipment you will need.

Place 1 cup of seeds in the sprouting jar and cover with 4 times their volume of water. Soak for several hours or, better, overnight. Remove any seeds that float to the top. They will not sprout. Drain seeds thoroughly after soaking. Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band.

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Read the next Article: How to grow your perennial plants

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Both Italian and curly parsley are excellent sources of vitamin A and C. Richer in iron than any other green vegetable, parsley is appreciated by cooks for its ability to blend various flavors in soups, stews, sauces and salads. Either variety can be used fresh, dried or frozen. Flat-leafed Italian parsley has a better flavor for cooking, while curly parsley is commonly used dried in cooking and fresh as a garnish. Start from seed indoors or set out plants when all danger of frost has passed.