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Friday, July 30, 2010


Sunflowers are fun and an important addition to the backyard farm. Here is why everyone should grow them.

Beautiful - Sunflowers are beautiful. When the Illinois Blacksmith John Deere was choosing colors for his new plow, I bet he was looking at a sunflower. The deep green and yellow are synchronous as opposed to corn where the green and yellow are asynchronous. How can you look at a sunflower and not smile? One fresh sunflower makes a great centerpiece for the table. 

Colossal – Sunflowers are daisies on radioactive steroids. Here I stand next to my sunflowers. I am 6’4” tall. That biggest sunflower is over 9 feet tall. WOW! 

Attracts beneficials - A sunflower is a huge billboard to the pollinating insect world that says “EAT ME”. When you have sunflowers every pollinator knows where to go.  The morning feast in a sunflower head is entrancing. Go out early and you will be amazed at the bees, wasps, and ants all jockeying for position to get the nectar and in return pollinate the hundreds of stigmas in each head. You can stick your face right up to the flower to watch. The pollinators are so focused on their work that they don’t notice you. These same pollinators will go on to pollinate other plants in the garden.  When the flowers are gone and the seeds set, here come the birds that will also gobble up some of those pesky bugs in the garden. 

 Disease and insect resistant – There are not very many diseases or insects that bother sunflowers.
  Incredible roots – The roots penetrate several feet down in to the soil to add organic matter and improve the tilth. They can actually help break up hard pan and draw up that deep moisture.
Drought resistant - The deep roots make them drought resistant. We have not watered our sunflowers since they were a foot tall and this summer has been very dry. Note how brown the pasture is behind the sunflower stalks in photo 2.
Weed resistant – Because the roots are so efficient in collecting water, other plants can’t compete with sunflowers. Make sure you keep them a few feet from your other fruits and vegetables.
Windbreak - I have notices that they actually serve as a little windbreak for the garden. 

Harvest - Sunflower seed yield is incredible. Whether you or the birds eat them, someone will have their fill. Try this. Fill your cheek full of sunflower seeds. Then one by one crack each seed with your teeth and tongue. Spit out the hull.  Then move the kernel over to your other cheek. When you have processed them all, you will have a nice cheek full of kernels to chew up and swallow. It’s a lot healthier than chewing tobacco.
Josey Wells – Sunflowers remind me of my favorite Clint Eastwood line from the movie Outlaw Josey Wells -  “Yeah, well, I always heard there were three kinds of suns in Kansas - sunshine, sunflowers, and sons-of-b_ _ _ _ _ _.” 



Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

Great post, Dale! I've never been able to resist a sunflower and I was contemplating whether or not to grow a large patch next year and you've convinced me to give it a go. Although I've grown them in the past, I haven't done more than a few. The gal over at ThyHandHathProvided.blogspot.com grew a whole field this year next to her house - lovely! And thanks for the good tips scattered in with the fun stuff.

Rachel said...

What variety do you grow? We are growing Black Oil Sunflowers for our livestock. Our main problem though is keeping the squirrels from beheading them before they open. Nasty little buggers.

Vikki and the Kid said...

Good post but you left out that a lot of livestock eat sunflower seeds, and goats like to munch on sunflower stalks. Good fodder for the winter.

I also use sunflowers to process into sunflower-butter!

Vikki at http://vikkisverandah.blogspot.com

katiegirl said...

I also grow several plants, but next year I'm going to make a large plot to do some succession plantings!

Dale, which variety are your large ones?

Dale Johnson said...


I planted several varieties intermingled so I don't know for sure but I think the big ones are "Large Grey Stripe"

straker said...

Sunflowers have pest problems. The seeds get these bugs that bore into them. I barely harvested anything from mine last year. I think you have to harvest just at the right time.