Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunflowers


The sunflowers, which were sown in mid-April, are growing quite well and are reaching a good size. Sunflowers usually reach full maturity in 90-100 days.


Sunflowers are sometimes grown purely for their ornamental value but they have a very wide variety of uses. The seeds, once processed, make a delicious snack and unprocessed can be fed to birds, livestock and other animals. A single sunflower can produce up to 2000 seeds. The petals can be used to make dye. The taller varieties can be used to make a natural windbreak and you can even use them as a living pole to support climbing beans.
There are more than 60 varieties of sunflowers available which come in a variety of sizes. Some grow to as tall as 4 metres whilst dwarf types can grow to only 5cm.. Some varieties produce a single large flower; others are multi-headed and they can now be found in a variety of colours.
Always plant sunflowers in a position that enjoys full sun and they are not fussy about soil type.


Sow seeds 2.5cm deep, 15cm apart and they usually germinate in 10 days. Thin larger varieties to 45cm apart and dwarf ones to 30cm. Water well after planting.and keep moist until well established.  Sunflowers are drought-resistant, but they'll grow better if you provide water from the time the flowers begin to develop until the heads fully mature.
Sunflowers are remarkably pest and disease free but if you are growing them for eating you may need to protect the seed heads from birds by covering with netting. 
Harvest seeds when they start to turn brown or the backs of the seed heads turn yellow. Cut the head off, along with 5cm of stem and hang upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place until fully dry. Once dry, rub the seeds out from the head and store in paper bags for bird or animal feed. To eat, however, soak overnight in salty water, drain, spread on a shallow baking sheet and sun dry for a few hours. Once dried, roast for 25 minutes at 180c or until crisp. If desired you can add salt, garlic powder or paprika to flavour, after mixing with a little olive oil before roasting. Allow to cool before storing in an airtight jar. If you store your seeds in the fridge this will  prolong their usage but consume within two months. You can enjoy your seeds as a snack or add to salads or casseroles. 

You can also eat the unopened flower buds steamed which have an artichoke flavour. Seeds can also be sprouted to provide a nutritional boost to salads or sandwiches, as sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. 

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