Late summer is a beautiful time for sunflowers. The large blooms are open and the seeds are taking shape. We have planted sunflowers a few times over the past few years but they have always been the type which we harvest for vegetable oil. This year for the first time we are growing sunflowers for the garden seed market.
Last year we ordered a cover crop mix which included sunflowers for our orchard. The large, bright flowers attract honeybees as well as other beneficial insects to help with pollination and pest control, which is always good for our orchard. They also make for good ground cover to avoid soil erosion.
The cover crop did ok last year and we intended to repeat that project this year but even the best laid plans have a way of changing, especially on an organic farm. The main reason we didn’t end up planting the cover crop including sunflowers in the orchard this year is because we had the opportunity to grow a different kind of sunflower for an organic seed company and we accepted. However, to keep the seeds true to type we can’t have any other sunflowers growing within a half-mile radius, or about a square mile. This is why Charley was out earlier this summer cutting down the wild sunflowers that pop up around the farm which were too close to our seed field. It’s also why we weren’t able to grow our sunflowers in the orchard this year, because it’s within that half-mile radius.
This year’s sunflowers are called Evening Color sunflowers. They are multi-branching sunflowers, rather than the traditional single-stem sunflower like we grew last year. This means that a single plant can produce several flower heads rather than just the one. Our field plot is fairly small, about a fifth of an acre, but we plan to harvest about 25 pounds of seed from our little patch. We won’t harvest the seeds until later this fall so for now we simply get to enjoy the beautiful multi-colored heads. If this goes well, we hope to expand the plot a little next year.