When ever I see a sunflower I think back to when I was young and helped my grandmother tend her garden. It always brings a smile to my face because that is the first flower she ever had me plant in the little garden space she had set aside for me in her back yard. I can still remember watching it grow and grow and grow. It seemed like every other day it was twice as tall. Pretty soon I was looking up at it and wondered if it was going to get as tall as a tree. The thing that really made me a fan was when that big old flower started to open up that was it I was hooked.
Now a days I grow sunflowers for a different reason, although I do like the grand kids coming over and planting a few because they just want to check them out and ask how they are doing every time we talk. I now grow them as a crop along side the vegetable garden. While you can make all kinds of things from the sunflower I generally grow them for eating and for sharing with the birds that frequent the garden.
Sunflower is a very popular oil it is low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fats. In some parts of Asia the oil the oil is used to burn in lamps. In the early 1800’s the first sunflower plantation was in the Ukraine. Sunflowers are a very popular snack item in Russia.
Sunflowers will grow best in a rich soil with enough space for their root systems to spread out they need the large roots to stabilize the tall plant and heavy seed head against the wind. For the giant varieties I recommend you plant the seeds 3 to 4 feet apart in rows that are spaced about 5 feet apart. They really need a lot of room. If you are planting the intermediate size ones I recommend a spacing of 2 feet apart in rows spaced 3 feet apart. The miniature varieties can be planted 1 foot apart in rows 3 feet apart.
You can harvest the seeds once the flowers start to die back and most of the petals have fallen. Pull out a seed and open it to see if it is full. Cut the flower head off and leave 4 or 5 inches of stalk. Hang your flowers upside down in a well ventilated area to dry. Once the heads have dried you can easily extract the seeds by rubbing two flower heads together the seed will just fall out.
I enjoy sharing the seeds with the birds and squirrels in the garden but I want some for me. The critters will start to attack the seeds before they are even ripe so I put a cheese cloth bag over them to protect them from attack. The are plenty left uncovered for the critters. Do not cover them with a plastic bag as moisture will build up inside and rot the flower heads. Some people use old nylon stockings.
This year why not grow a few sunflowers and spread a little sunshine in the garden.