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Sunflowers

Here's a picture taken in August 3rd of this year. Weslee's standing in front of our corn patch (actually, our "Three Sisters" patch: corn, squashes, beans and some sunflowers) in his gardening outfit, shortly before everything had a huge growth spurt.

Some of the corn stalks (closest to the fence and shed) reached over 9 foot tall, and the sunflowers grew mostly to 8 foot. We sowed mammoth sunflower seeds, so when they grew to their fullest heights and start forming the faces, we were amazed and stunned.

This second picture shows what we see from our side driveway. Ivy and honeysuckle in front, corn and sunflowers in the back. Imagine coming home from a hard day of work and seeing the tall sunflowers peeking over the fence. What a wonderful greeting.

Remember, this was our experimental year, so yes, we learned a lot. We learned to plant only one sunflower per square foot or more so that they will have room to spread out their leaves. We learned that the roots are so strong that they will help break up clay soil and aerate deep down. We learned to not harvest them too early: the faces will droop down under the weight of mature seeds, the backs of the faces will begin to turn from green to yellow then brown, and that the window of harvest is small: as soon as the backs begin to turn, the birds will find them. We tied paper bags around the heads (with a few holes for ventilation) until we harvested them the day before our first frost.

We harvested 9 heads from the backyard. We kept them in their bags and put them in the basement to continue curing. Be sure to keep them up to prevent mice and other critters from getting to them.

Some time in mid-Summer, we decided to plant some sunflowers in the front yard, to hide an aspen tree that died and needed to cut down. So, even though they got a late start, several seeds took hold and grew up. One only made it to about 3 feet tall (I planted the seeds too close together) but the other 4 grew tall.

They survived our first frost. When I went out to check on them, look who I saw! These last two pictures show the deep blue Colorado sky, our biggest front-yard sunflower and our friend, the butterfly. This butterfly let me watch almost 10 minutes, as it sunned its wings and enjoyed the bounty of the flower.

Sunflowers brighten up anyone's day, and provide great nutrition. Once you get the hang of it, it's obvious when to harvest. Back of faces turn color. Paper bag them (we poked holes in the grocery bags, then tied them with twine). Before the first frost, cut them down, taking plenty of the stalk so you can hang them from the ceiling. Before hanging, if there are any yellow petals still covering the seeds, carefully brush them away. Re-bag, tie, and hang. Keep them in a cool dry place, in the paper bag, until the seeds fall out when gently shaken. Roast or freeze to keep from going rancid.

Great source of nutrition, and a fun snack.

We plan on planting a LOT of sunflowers next year on our new property. Great to break up the soil, and certain string beans do well using them to grow up.

Here's a nutritional chart on sunflower seeds I found at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=57
Check out the nutrients, vitamins and minerals. One ounce of sunflowers seeds provides 5 grams of protein, 241 grams of potassium, 170 calories (of which 130 are from fat - the good kind), fiber, sugar, Vitamin E, folate and more.
These are SO easy to grow and look at the benefits. Hoping to next year figure out how to make oil from the seeds. Meanwhile, remember to save some seeds to plant next year (don't roast, freeze, or dehydrate the seeds you plan to plant).

Vikki