"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Contemplating Sunflowers

Sometimes you come across a plant that is so eager to carry on that it practically demands to be part of the garden, our traditional variety of large "volunteer" Mammoth Gray sunflowers are just such a plant. They re-seed so readily and prolifically that we no longer bother planting them and simply thin the volunteers down to the choicest seedlings which are then either transplanted or left to grow where they have germinated. By fall, the stalks on some are so broad and the plants themselves so lofty that I must feign a lumberjack and cut them down with a hand saw as if in a small deciduous forest of giant flowers. Stalks are often used as pea or bean poles during the following season, given their height they serve as exceptional supports for runner beans if tied into a tepee type formation.

My wife in amongst some of the late July, still young but burgeoning, volunteer Gray Mammoth sunflowers

However, we did deviate from the previous years norm and try a new variety called Mongolian Giant that are best known for their extraordinarily large seeds. With heads that are supposed to reach 18" across and seeds around 1.5", ours averaged about 10-14" across with some seeds almost as big as was suggested. The plants, though somewhat smaller than the giant volunteers, differed in that they had extremely uniform heads that allowed for much easier processing. Mongolian seeds themselves also seem to be a little more user friendly in that their size and elongated shape are an advantage when shelling.

The flavor being superb, I am considering growing only this variety next season, my dilemma being whether or not I should buy pure seed or rely on my own that quite possibly crossed with the other flowers. Sunflowers are insect pollinated and have a very heavy pollen that is not easily carried long distances, so perhaps the 50 or so feet of separation between the two varieties was enough...I really don't know.

As you can see, there is quite a difference in size between the Mongolian and volunteer seeds

As soon as the heads begin to yellow in the back and the now darkened seeds appear to be fully developed we cut the plants down and let the seedy heads dry in our greenhouse for a couple weeks making the removal of seed less difficult. They are not left to lie around for too long as our humid fall weather invariably causes the heads to rot from behind eventually infecting the seeds. Once the seeds are removed we finish the drying process next to our wood or pellet stove because the unshelled seeds also have a propensity to become moldy if they are not cured properly in a warm dry environment.

Tip - if your seed shells get a little moldy due to humidity they can be washed in warm water and strained before drying. I have done this and it works great, no need to waste good sunflower seeds.

Heads left to dry in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks before extracting the seeds

Removing the seeds and filling our bins...a slow arduous task to say the least:)

Drawn to the sun as in a hypnotic trance these colossal flowers provide us with a tremendous amount of health-giving seed. Ironically, this gift is not without it's drawbacks. A nightly ritual involves the laborious task of shelling a couple handfuls of seed that are tossed into salads providing us with an abundance of nutritional benefits. Considering the time consuming nature of this chore we have started experimenting with grinding the seeds, shell and all, in our little hand powered grain mill and adding the powder to either salads or morning fruit smoothies. A kind soul recently sent me some interesting pictures showing a homemade huller in operation and I may have to further explore the possibility of making my own one day.

Not only are these sustentative seeds a great source of protein and numerous other beneficial nutrients but also contain trace amounts of "natural" fluorine that can help one resist tooth decay, making them an excellent snack. I found the below highlighted article to be rather interesting in that it helps explain why these seeds are not just for the birds.


Diane@Peaceful Acres said...

Mike those are impressive sunflowers!!!

I really love your header, there is something about dirt on hands....I can't put it into words but I love to see "farmers" hands.

Anonymous said...

I do love sunflowers-I can't believe the size of the Mongolian sunflower seeds. That's an excellent idea to use the stalks as bean poles -when we used to grow them that was always a problem getting rid of the stalks.

Mr. H. said...


The picture of hands in the header was taken this summer after a day of picking huckleberries in the mountains...hence the purple fingers. On our way home we stopped at a favorite place we like to pick clover and brought some home to be used in my wifes tea concoctions. It was a really fine day.

Mr. H. said...


Yes, corn and sunflower stalks can be quite a hassle to break down. This year we spent part of a day dicing our corn stalks up so they would more easily deteriorate...that was a chore.

granny said...

Hi Mr H :0) I love sunflowers,and just this morning plant out some seed in a little garden that gets too much sun for almost anything else,my Rosemary likes it though !
Sunflowers always look so cheery,and never fail to put a big smile on my face.
The Mongolian seeds are HUGE !! I havent heard of those before.
What a job to get the seed out !!Many hours of fun :0)

Ayak said...

I love sunflowers..there's nothing I like better than seeing fields of them for miles and miles. The seeds are so popular here. Everyone eats them.

LynnS said...

Love the photo of your wife in amongst them!!

I can't wait to read/see your home-made huller! (Or did you simply put that child to work??)

Heiko said...

I must look into this variety. I grew sunflowers this year, but their seeds are so small that hulling them would just be far to fiddly, so we left them to the birds (bless the wee creatures...) Trouble is here in Italy I rarely find of a variety in sub-species of any seed material. People seem to stick to what they know and don't experiment much.

Naomi said...

Wow those Mongolian Giants are massive! We have some seed for a variety called "Evening Crimson", they give small multiple heads that have beautiful crimson colours on the petals. Not so good for seed, but so very cheerful. I need to plant some!

Mr. H. said...


We never have much luck with rosemary but try to grow a little every year...not enough sun:)

Mr. H. said...


I have never seen a field of sunflowers, that sounds amazing. They seem to be universally popular.:)

Mr. H. said...


I had a more recent photo of myself in amongst the flowers but it looked as though I was lilliputian in the land of extremely giant flowers for some reason.

Right now Micki is my most proficient huller but there is always room for improvement. As long as I make the salad she does not seem to mind dealing with the seeds.

Mr. H. said...


Experimentation is the funnest part of gardening.:)

"I am working with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which shouldn't come as a surprise to you because I am busy painting huge sunflowers." - Vincent Van Gogh

Perhaps the Dutch painters favorite flower. If he only knew how much it would someday be worth...$39.9 million.

Mr. H. said...


Those sound very nice, no garden should be without at least a couple sunflowers. We had a multi-headed sunflower pop up in the corner of our garden this past year, it was most interesting...I have no idea where it came from.

WeekendFarmer said...

Do you have a plan from the green house you could kindly send me? I need to make something to process, dry all the garden goods. I like how your look so sturdy!

Your 'pan' recipe is on the way....it has been crazy busy here : )

Hope you are well!

Mr. H. said...


I don't have an actual plan on the greenhouse but would be happy to send you some detailed photos. I made a replica of this greenhouse↓


Ziggy's is a local lumber supplier in our area that also sells small buildings and greenhouses. They were too pricey for me so I took pictures of the ones they had for sale and made my own for much cheaper. I did buy the material from them though.

I would do it a bit different the next time though. If I build another one it will definitely have a swing away roof and larger window for more air flow like the ones in these pictures↓


Page 37 and 39 of the ↓ document provide plans for a greenhouse very similar to mine (37) and the one I may build next (39). Sorry they are difficult to read.



Anonymous said...

I just love the look of your garden plots among the trees... I'd love to visit some day.



Mr. H. said...


I do enjoy our gardens in amongst the trees, but what you can't see is the neighbors junkyard a few hundred yards away. I think perhaps you and all of the bears would be much more interesting.:)

One said...

Hi! I was asking Diana when to harvest my sunflowers and she excitedly told me that you have a post on this. What a coincidence! Your mammoth sunflower is so huge, it makes you look like Alice in Wonderland. LOL!

Mr. H. said...

One - Sunflowers are a lot of fun in the garden...so big. But yes, as soon as the heads begin to yellow in the back and the seeds are dark and appear to be fully developed you can remove the heads for harvest of seeds. Sometimes we do indeed feel like Alice in wonderland while in the garden.:)

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Wow your mammoth sunflower is twice taller than the one I grew this summer. The volunteer seeds look suspiciously like the seeds that I bought. Do you think the seeds that I bought actually not a true type but has been cross-pollinate? Feel a bit cheated.LOL. Thank you for reminding me to keep the stalk to make tepee for peas and beans this coming autumn.

Mr. H. said...

Malay Kadazan girl - Some of our heads were Mongolian Giant and had really big seeds, our other Mammoth gray sunflowers had just as big of heads but small seeds, so it can be hard to judge the size of the plant by its seed size. That said, I have bought many different seeds over the years that were not what they were suposed to be.

Related Posts with Thumbnails