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News from the Good Food Project

Sunny places and smiling faces

Sunflowers are totally awesome!! There is a certain charm about a flower that moves it blooms to always face the sun, and then when it reaches maturity it will only face the east. A young flower will always face the east and greet the sun at dawn, then slowly follow the sun west till sunset and turn back to the east during the night. While often admired as ornamentals, sunflowers have an amazing variety of uses. They made a good fodder for poultry and livestock, dyes come from the petals, and paper can be made for the stalk pith. Its seeds and seed meal feed countess people, animals, and birds; sunflower see-oil is used in cooking and in soaps and cosmetics. In the garden you can grow sunflowers as windbreaks, privacy screens, or living support for pole beans.

Rodale's Organic Life lists sunflowers in a wide assortment of sizes. Some cultivars grow as tall as 15" and the flower heads can be as big as 1' across and dwarf types are only 1'-2' tall. There are also early, medium height sunflowers that stand 5'-6' tall but have heads that are 8"-10" across. Some cultivars produce a single large flower; others form several heads.

When planting sunflowers, if possible, choose a site in full sun on the north side of the garden, so the tall plants won't shade your other vegetables. Sunflowers aren't fussy about soil.

Seedlings are cold-resistant, but it is best to wait until the soil is warmer, around the last frost date. sow seeds 1" deep and 6" apart. thin large types to 1 1/1" apart and dwarf or medium sized cultivars to 1" apart. Water well after planting.

Harvest sunflowers as soon as the seeds start to turn brown or the backs of the seed heads turn yellow. The heads usually droop at this time. Cut them along with 2' of the stem and hand upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place, such as a garage or attic, until fully dry. Store in plastic bags for birds and animal food. To eat, soak overnight in water, drain, spread on a shallow baking sheet and roast for 3 hours at 200 degrees F or until crisp.

So plant those sunflowers and watch them follow the sun! Happy Planting!

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