Friday, February 3, 2017

The Sun in Sunflowers

One of the things we aren't always so good at doing is getting sunflowers into the ground on our farm.  I would say that we manage to put them in on average of 2 out of every 3 seasons.  That's still pretty good, but I really feel their absence on those years when we don't put them in.

Lemon Queen

Sunflowers can be a challenge since they do take up a fair amount of space by nature of their height.  If you want to crop anything nearby, you have to consider the shading that's going to happen as these plants grow.  Not only that, but these can (and do) get knocked over by the wind.  If you've never had to fight your way through downed or leaning sunflowers to get to another crop, then you don't understand.  If you have, then you know why you have to choose the location wisely.  You also need to consider the allelopathic qualities of most sunflowers.  These plants tend to suppress seed germination in a radius around the stem's base. 

On the other hand, there's this.
Sunflowers do establish pretty easily from seed.  They do provide a windbreak and they can provide late afternoon shade for crops that would like to have a little less sun during the hottest months (such as lettuce).

Autumn Beauty
We've found that sunflowers work well with sweet corn.  But, since we're not doing much with sweet corn anymore, that natural fit isn't there for us anymore.  Winter squash and pumpkins don't mind vining up to sunflowers and may even try to climb them.  If you want to try and keep squash 'walled in' you can do a heavy planting of sunflowers on the edge of the field and most of the vines will run up to the sunflowers and either try to climb them or run parallel to the row.  There's always a few that will sneak out, of course.

What we like most about them?  Well, we like the way they look - adding color that you can see from a distance.  But, we also like the natural food for habitat the flowers provide.  Birds get a nice treat through the late Fall and Winter from these.  And, yes, humans like the seed too.

So, here's to a year where we find the niches on our farm for the sunflower!

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