I am by no means a 'master gardener' but I do have a passion for growing fruits, vegetables and flowers here on our farm. Every Spring, the excitement builds as I begin planting seeds on my potting bench and watch them turn into seedlings, then plants to pot out in the garden for a late summer harvest that will feed our family and beautify our home.
A favourite annual of many gardeners is of course non other than the simple yet beautiful sunflower. It is a classic annual in the garden..it's big, it's bold and it truly is so easy to grow!
Last year I grew a sunflower patch in my garden that yielded 9' tall plants. I loved walking through there in the morning light as it made me feel so humbled and small. It always amazes me what can grow from a tiny little seed! Did you know the tallest sunflower on record is currently at 27'?! I would have LOVED to have seen that!
What is great about sunflowers is that they come in every size, perfect for every kind of garden whether that be a small plot, a container garden or a large field. There are dwarf sunflowers, doubles and they even come in a wide range of colours (Velvet Queen might be my favourite coloured sunflower - a dark, velvet-like shade of red)
During the summer months, sunflowers not only bring beauty to your garden, they also attract beneficial "friends" such as butterflies and bees. Of course attracting bees to your vegetable plot is a must to help pollination and as a gardener, you can't help but attract as many pollinators as possible! As a child I used to be afraid of buzzing bees in the garden but now I realize how beneficial they are and love hearing them work tirelessly collecting nectar. Wasps on the other hand...don't get me started!
Helianthus Annuus is native to North America and has been grown as a crop for some 5,000 years. At first, the plant only caught on in a modest way but so much has changed. Canada alone is a huge producer of sunflower oil and in many regions of our country you can see fields of golden sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see from July thru to September.
Did you know that sunflowers are called as such not because they're shaped much like a sunburst but because the flower buds actually follow the sun? Turning East in the morning, to the South by noon and to the West by late afternoon. Once the flower starts to open, however, this "daily spin", stops and at maturity, most sunflowers will face Southeast.
When it comes to sowing these beauties, there are many different approaches (go with whatever works best for you!). Most often I recommend sowing the seeds 1" apart and 1" deep in well drained soil. Once the seeds begin sprouting, thin them down to about 2' for small/medium plants or 3' for tall, single-stemmed varieties. Full sun is best (obviously) and adding a bit of compost at planting time and watering in droughts is generally the only care you need to give them while they grow. If however you are looking for a prize winning bloom, feed them constantly and never let their roots dry out completely.
While I have grown sunflowers indoors for fun, I don't recommend doing this as sunflowers do not like any root disturbance while growing. The plants themselves grow rapidly but the flowers will not begin to bloom til mid-summer. If you are looking to have some for cut flowers, I recommend harvesting when the first few "petals" appear. Otherwise just leave them to do their thing in the garden.
I often will leave a few seed heads over the winter to help feed the birds that stay in our yard (we had quite a few this winter!!) but then chop them down in early Spring and resow them. However, oftentimes the seed heads will drop their seeds on their own and new flowers will start popping up in late May to early June!
Something I just learned last summer myself and I feel it's worth sharing is that sunflowers are allelopathic: their roots give off toxic properties that either prevent nearby plants from germinating or stunt their growth. This was proven to me when I planted a few varieties in my new zinnia bed. Every seed planted within 18" of the sunflowers never came up!! Lesson learned..
There are so many varieties of sunflowers out there for you to try and grow. Many hybrids offered are pollen free for cut flower use (florists) and their most attractive feature is that pollen won't fall (and stain your table setting, clothing etc) However the major disadvantage of this is that they produce far less seeds (some don't produce any!) therefore I like to plant a vast variety in my yard.
This year I will be growing at least 10 different varieties of sunflowers. My favourites at the moment are:
- Teddy Bear: a dwarf sunflower that produces fully double golden yellow plants
- Ring of Fire: this is a nod to my husband and his admiration of the "man in black", Mr Johnny Cash. It is a very different sunflower, a 5" pollen-less flower with bi-coloured petals
- Lemon Eclair: I am so excited for this new flower to begin producing in my garden this year! It is a delicious lemon coloured sunflower with a chocolate brown centre. Long, cactus like outer petals are grounded by a fluffy centre..very excited!!
- finally, I am also planting Vanilla Ice this Summer in my front flower beds to add height and also to use in flower arrangements for our farmhouse
So there you have it. My first edition of "what I am growing" in 2015. I hope you learned something new about these garden classics and I hope I have inspired you to throw a few of these seeds in your own gardens in 2015!! Happy planting everyone!
we have been home on the farm for a week now from our family vacation in Hawaii and life has been happening all around us. The weather has been unseasonably warm and I have soaked it up as much as one possibly could have, spending mornings letting the chickens out, cleaning their coop, raking leaves up from the beds and pulling foliage from cosmos and sunflowers for the compost pile. I excitedly planted my first tomatoes and flowers on my potting bench and stared thru the plastic dome like an excited child waiting by the oven for that fresh, hot chocolate chip cookie..waiting. We moved our farm machinery back to the yard for its yearly maintenance before we start seeding in a couple of weeks and even spent evenings out on the swing in t-shirts while dinners cooked on the bbq. Its Spring here on the farm..and I love it!
of course with all the excitement that life offers, so comes life's trials and challenges. this week Hudson is teething something fierce and my heart breaks for this period in his life. Two days ago, he began cutting 3 new teeth..all at once! his nose was running, drool trickled out from his sweet little mouth, a painful diaper rash erupted on his bottom and he was NOT happy!! My poor little baby is growing up!! Its exciting but challenging..
beyond the aches and pains of toddlerhood came even bigger heartbreaks for our family this week. My husbands grandma landed in the hospital near the tail end of our vacation with pneumonia and only recently was released. Then my mom let me know my uncle was hospitalized for stomach pains and was diagnosed with stomach cancer and is needing his entire stomach to be removed quickly. Then a text from my best friend about a personal heartbreak of her own...it was just one thing after another. People around me are hurting and I wish I could take that hurt for them and give them hope.
Then yesterday, I received a text from a very dear friend of mine that finally broke me. Her beautiful daughter, who just turned 1 last week and was born with down syndrome, has been diagnosed with a form of leukaemia. I was shattered. This family has already been through so much and this precious little girl..why? Why is this all happening? What is going on? I know its not for me to question the why's or the how's of this world but somedays I cannot help myself. Everyone is going through some form of struggle and I guess thats "just life"..whatever that means..
so here's to the ups and downs of life. the struggles and the victories. the hurt and the joy.
we arrived home on the farm Friday evening and I can't even explain to you how comforting it felt to pull into our yard. My dogs were happily barking and chasing our truck and I understood then how much this farm means to me. this weekend we were blessed with beautiful Spring-like weather, to which we played outside as much as we could. playing with our flock of chickens, cleaning up our yard from winter, swinging off the old tree, cooking meals on the bbq and getting my hands in the dirt to begin seeds again for this summers garden. the birds are happily chirping, the snow has almost disappeared (for now, at least) and our farm smells of musty earth and wet grass..I find myself looking for robins and meadowlarks..knowing that this could all too soon leave us for another wintry spell. but for now..I'm soaking up this sunny Spring weather. here's a look at our weekend thru my lens..
While many may complain about the cold bitterness of Winter, the photographer in me embraces it for its beautiful low light. I love how it sparkles off of freshly fallen snow and how it covers a frozen field in golden embers before tapering off for yet another evening. I find myself scurrying outside in the first and last hours of daylight just to watch it turn our farm from blue to pink to orange and yellow..there is no artist on earth who could ever outperform the prairie sky.
What inspired me to snap this photo was how the Winter light could transform my morning walk to the chicken coop into something so beautiful and peaceful. I walk this farm every morning to take in the beauty that surrounds us in the country and in the winter? A fresh cup of coffee is a constant companion..
Please continue on to view Lisa and Laurie's entries for this month
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