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Sunflower S-M-I-L-E

2 Sep

I have never met a sunflower I didn’t like.  Have you?  Honestly, don’t they make you S-M-I-L-E ?  They are so easy to grow.  And I’m sure if you feed birds, you have witnessed the sunflower that was randomly “planted” next to the bird feeder.  They are so easy to grow.  Even when I go to the farmers market I can still find some to buy.  The farmer I buy mine from each week sells sunflowers at 3 for $1.00.  So, for 33.333333333 cents each, I can afford to pass them out to friends and co-workers.  Then I get to watch them S-M-I-L-E .  Did you know that the heirloom sunflower “Mammoth” can grow ten to twelve feet tall?  And have heads that could possibly stretch up to twelve inches across?  This is the biggest sunflower out there.  And the best part is, if you grow one, you will never have to buy seed again.  WHAT?!!?!  I have been growing this sunflower for many, many years, and save one of the heads each year, and have hundreds of seeds.  I have so many seeds, that I am going to send some to you if you are one of the first 25 readers to like or share this post.  Really.  I want to share the Sunflower S-M-I-L-E and then you can grow some and share them with your friends too.  Don’t worry about the size, they are perfect for an urban farmscape.  I fell in love with them when I first grew them at my farm.  I planted a 10 x 10 space in a small culinary garden.  They are tall, and I didn’t have much room, but I decided to try them anyway.   Don’t be surprised if they are the center of attention in your garden. 

How to save seeds from your sunflower.

  • First, the outer petals will start to dry up.  You will be able to see the seeds when the flowers begin to fall off. 
  • If the birds start eating the seeds, you know for sure it’s time to harvest. 
  • After harvesting the flower, place in a warm dry location to dry completely.  Keep the heads whole if you like and use as bird feeders or for crafts. 
  • Sunflower seeds are really hard to remove.  If you want to remove them from the head, take two seed heads and rub them together.  Wear gloves as the stem may have small sliver type pieces that could irritate your skin. Once a few seeds begin to dislodge, it will get easier.
  • You will end up with some seeds mixed with some dried plant material.  Clean the remaining seeds from the plant debris and then store in a cool dry location in a paper bag or paper envelope. 
  • You can feed the birds, feed yourself, or even make crafts with sunflowers.  



Here’s what I made this weekend while camping from a sunflower head using florists wire and picks, and some dried flowers and items found in nature. 

Step 1:  First I used some floral picks to wrap wire around pine cones.  Set aside to use later.


Step 2:  Next, I arranged some dried flowers across the lower portion of a grapevine wreath.


Step 3:  Wire the dried flowers to the wreath using floral wire.  Trim stems.


Step 4:  I used floral wire to attach this sunflower head to the wreath, covering the stems of the dried flowers.


Step 5:  Here I inserted some fresh-cut hydrangeas as“filler”.  These will dry, and still look nice. 


For the finishing touches, I hung it up and then placed in the pinecones where I felt they were needed.  I like to look at it a bit.  Then while out on a walk, I picked some ferns and used them.  They will get curly and brown, and might not look as good as the others, but for now, I liked it! 


I’m sure that if you haven’t grown sunflowers before, you will want to grow them next year.  So if you want some free Sunflower “Mammoth” seeds, this is what you need to do, it’s easy, and it will make a lot of people S-M-I-L-E !

  1. “Like” or “Share” this post using any of the sharing buttons below to get a packet of 10 seeds.  Only the first 25 people to do so will get seeds.  So hurry!
  2. Next, send me an e-mail to request your seeds (I need the address to mail them too.  Don’t worry, I won’t keep, share, or use your address in any other way than to send you your seeds. 
  3. I will pay for the postage!  Hooray! 
  4. You will receive your seeds with planting instructions, let’s say, within ten business days of requesting, at which time, you will experience a small smile 🙂


Seed Sowing Calendar

15 Jan

“A garden is half-made when it is well planned.  The best gardener

is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.” 

~Liberty Hyde Bailey




Seed packets and seed starting supplies are beginning to pile up around my house.  Soon there will be hundreds of little plants in sunny window sills and sprouting under grow lights.  I’m already anxious for spring, but know that I need to wait until the right time to get started.  After doing an inventory of seeds, and ordering what I want for this year, it’s time to plan my seed sowing calendar. 

When preparing to sow seeds, you need to start at the end by thinking of when it’s safe to plant them outside.  Our frost free date here in Mid-Michigan is about May 13th.  This is a good time to plant most vegetables and flowers outside without worrying about the dangers of frost.  Eggplant, peppers and basil don’t do well in cool soils or air temperatures.  I have had better luck waiting until Memorial Day weekend to plant those outside.  Or, you could use season extension techniques which I will talk about closer to planting time.  What about cooler season crops?  Spinach, arugula, lettuce, beets, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, chives, cilantro and violas are just a few that can be planted outside in April, about the first or second week. So, should you start sowing all the seeds you have right now?  How to you figure out what to sow when?

            First things first.  Get a calendar.  A really big one that you can write all over and see every day.  Or, if you prefer, a planner type calendar, or a spread sheet.  Whatever works best for you.  Mark your first frost free date.  That is going to be your starting point.  You can also add something like, “Plant Cool Season Crops” on a day in the first two weeks of April, and then around Memorial Day, “Plant Warm Season Crops” so you know when to plant out eggplant, peppers and basil.  I am going to use tomatoes as an example to get you started.  When you look at the cultural information for tomatoes, typically it will say start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost.  Starting on the calendar at May 13, you will count backwards 6-8 weeks.  So any time between March 18th and April 1st would be an ideal time to start your tomato seeds indoors.  Continue to do this with everything you are going to grow.  Some seeds, such as beans or nasturtium do best planted directly in the garden so don’t start them indoors.  Follow directions from your seed supplier, or better yet, get the book The Seed Starters Handbook  by Nancy Bubel.  She covers in detail everything you need to know about seeds.  A must have resource for every Urban Farmscaper.  As you continue to work on your seed sowing calendar, you will probably start to notice that, with a few exceptions, most seeds will need to be started in March.  Some cool season crops such as broccoli will be started at the end of February. Your calendar will also serve as your planting calendar and a record for future years, so take good notes.  You should start shopping around for seed starting supplies such as “No Damp Off” seed starting mix by Mosser Lee, Heat Mats, Seeding Trays (like the 20 row seeder available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds) and full spectrum fluorescent lights.  Soon I will be sharing with you my tips and tricks for success as I start sowing my seeds.

Is it the Seed or the Plant?

5 Jan

Think about it. You need seeds to grow plants, but then you need flowering plants to make fruit that holds the seeds. What came first? The seed or the plant?

And how do you grow seedless vegetables and fruit? Companies are actually creating plants that flower, and make seeds, but they aren’t viable. It’s a flowers job to reproduce and create lots of seed to ensure it continues to exist. Think dandelion. Does that make sense?

Long, long ago, in the Kingdom of Plantae, there first existed non-vascular (no xylem or phloem to transport water or food or roots) plants called Bryophytes (think mosses and liverworts). They reproduced with the help of water splashing male gametophytes to female gametophytes. Soon evolved Seedless Vascular Plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that reproduced by the production of thousands of spores that drop to the ground at the right time ( brown spots under leaves of ferns). Lastley, plants evolved into Seeded Vascular Plants producing seeds in cones (pine trees) and seeds in fruits of flowering woody and herbaceous plants (trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, flowers). Oversimplified, yes, but does it answer the question? Maybe.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Moss sp. showing reproductive organs.

Photo courtesy of Derek Shiels

While you contemplate on this, you need to get a jump on getting your seed catalogs if you haven’t already. Whether you are going to start seeds or not (I will teach you how later, so you might as well order some) the catalogs offer a lot of great cultural information. You can order seed catalogs or download them from the company’s website. While thumbing your way through, pay attention to container or climing tall varieties. They take up less space which is something you need to think about when planning your Urban Farmscapes. Look for seeds and seed companies that are certified organic. Starting with organic seed is the best choice. They should carry the standard logo on their label such as I have here.

Also look for heirloom, open pollinated seed. This way you will be able to collect seed to use for next year (I will teach you how to do that later too). Heirlooms are old fashioned varieties that pollinate freely and have been collected and saved over time. These would be the plants our grandparents and great grandparents grew. If you see a hybrid, sometimes called an F1 Hybrid, this means it is a cross between two or more other varieties. In flowers for example, if you cross a white petunia with a purple petunia, you may get striped white and purple petunias or lavender colored petunias. Is this bad? Nope. People have been creating hybrids throughout history trying to improve something about them. Tomatoes have been bred to last longer on the grocery store shelves, thus sacrificing flavor. Who wants a tomato that doesn’t taste good, but can sit on a shelf for a long time? Can you get organic F1 hybrid seed? Yes. But you won’t want to collect hybrid seed because the seed you may get could be the original variety that was crossed to get the hybrid. Make sense? Again, I am oversimplifying while trying to explain the world of plant genetics and seeds. Send me a question or comment if you want to discuss further.

I have become obsessed with growing heirloom varieties and collecting seed, but still need (well, want, maybe not need) seed each year. Here are a few of my favorite seed companies.

photo courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a large selection of organic and heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds as well as fruit plants. They also carry small farm and gardening supplies,along with tools designed by Eliot Coleman. Great quality and service in business since 1973. The employee owned company is located in Maine. The best resource I have found so far for cultural information. You will save this catalog and use as a reference! Awesome online resources. In my garden I will be growing many peppers that are recommended by Johnny’s for containers, along with many other yummy things. Johnny’s has been my favorite seed source for as long as I have been gardening. (877) 564-6697

Photos courtesy of Baker Creek

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. The life forces behind this fourteen year old company are Jere and Emilee Gettle who produce only heirloom varieties. You should buy their book and to learn more about heirlooms and their whole story. The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere & Emilee Gettle with Meghan Sutherland is available on their website and other book buying venues. Not only is it a story about Baker Creek and the importance of growing heirloom varieties, it has an A to Z Growing Guide for their favorite fifty crops that include the history and uses of the plant, growing tips, pests and diseases, seed saving and preparing it to eat. AWESOME! In my garden this year I am going to grow their Top 10 Favorite Container Plants that is discussed in their book in chapter 7 titled, “City Farmer”. Buy the book. You won’t be disappointed. (417) 924-8917

While I’m on the subject of heirloom and open pollinated seeds, check out Seed Savers Exchange. I would definitely have to agree with them as being the nation’s premier seed saving organization. Located in Decorah, Iowa since 1975, they are a seed saving non-profit member organization collecting and selling seed to help fund their preservation efforts. I have always wanted to visit their Heritage Farm headquarters or attend one of their special events. If you don’t want to start your own seed, then you could opt to buy transplants from them. They grow and sell several heirloom pepper transplants as well as heirloom tomato varieties like Cherokee Purple and Hungarian Heart. These won’t be at any garden center I know of. You don’t have to be a member to order from their catalog, but if you do become a member, you will receive 10% off of your order! (563) 382-5990

Seeds of Change. Located in New Mexico, probably one of the first organic seed companies in business since 1989. They have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and donate 1% of their net sales to advance the efforts of sustainable agriculture across the world. A very philanthropic company. They have identified vegetable varieties for “Space Challenged Gardening” which is what most of us Urban Farmscapers are dealing with. (888) 762-7333

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Based in California. Organic seeds, plants, tools and fun gardening stuff. You can even get 10 Fruit Trees delivered for $199 ! That is, if you have room. I planted four varieties of garlic and one type of shallot this past autumn that I ordered as a Garlic Combo Pack. If you want to grow garlic, keep in mind that you plant it in the autumn. (888) 784-1722

Order your seeds soon to make sure you get the variety you want. Soon I will guide you through successful seed starting indoors!

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