Now the sunflowers are talking to Babs

Posted on October 26, 2009


Babs and the sunflowers, what’s up with that anyway?  Now they’re talking to her.  She writes: The sunflowers have not been harvested yet.  So I stopped the other day and they asked to have their picture taken. So I did.

Sunflower in October

Maybe they’re grateful for the opportunity to let their hair down. It must be exhausting to maintain that sunny look, hold up those heavy heads of cheer, while every passing tourist stops to take your picture. I got to wondering, how are sunflower seeds harvested anyway? I mean, I know how the birds and the chipmunks harvest them. I’ve watched the little devils at it. Remind me to tell you about Mr. Stollmar’s War With the Squirrels sometime.

I wondered if the harvest was a shaking operation or a threshing operation or whether growers ever got to keep any of the seeds. Maybe sunflowers are grown mainly for the wow factor, and to distract the birds from the other crops, then plowed under for soil enrichment?  Here’s what I found out:

The University of Illinois Extension says When the seeds are ready, but before the seeds begin to loosen and dry, cut the head off the stem leaving about one foot of stem attached. Rub the seeds out on the head by hand, dry, and store. Clearly this advice is intended for the home gardener. What about commercial growers?

Kansas State University Research and Extension has a fascinating site showing the entire growing process from planting to harvest. I guess I should have known that the best place to start would be in the Sunflower State. Here’s the part that shows the combine at work in a farmer’s field in October. So a threshing operation it is. That particular farmer harvested over 2,000 pounds of seed per acre. Take that, pesky birds! (Of course, those particular seeds were probably dried, packaged in 50-pound bags and shipped to Wild Birds Unlimited in Traverse City where I bought them to feed my ravenous chickadees.)

I cannot tell you how much I admire that KSU site. It is a model of the kind of education an extension service should undertake. There are pictures of mysterious agricultural implements and clear explanations of what each gizmo does. There are pictures of sunflowers from seed to shining seed. There is conflict! There is death! There is victory! You will almost certainly learn at least two or three things you didn’t know before. I don’t see how you can go wrong.