Sunflowers – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
Did You Know…
Sunflowers (Helianthus) are a true American native with almost all the 70 species originating from North and Central America. This the only major field crop native to the United States. Despite originating in the Americas, most sunflowers are now grown elsewhere and over half the world production comes from Ukraine and Russia. North and South Dakota account for the bulk of US production. The Jerusalem artichoke, which is grown for its edible tubers, is also a type of sunflower. Sunflowers are heliotropic – the plant tracks the sun during the day, so the flowers all face the same way!
Types of Sunflowers
Different varieties of sunflowers are grown for oil, edible seeds or as ornamentals – the oil seed varieties account for about 80% of the total. The fiber from the stems of sunflowers is also used to make paper and fabric. There are multiple ornamental varieties with colors ranging from the typical yellow to orange, red, maroon, and brown. Though all sunflower seeds are edible, the large seeded varieties with grey striped seeds are most often utilized for seed consumption – Mammoth Russian, Mammoth Grey Stripe and Sunzilla are some of the typical named varieties. The large sunflower varieties can grow to well over 10 feet tall with the record holder being over 30 feet.
When to Plant
Sunflowers are usually grown as a warm season annual in full sun. They are tolerant to a wide variety of soils but do best with well fertilized soils that are also well drained. Any good garden soil will suit these plants. Direct seed sunflowers in the spring after the chance of frosts have ended.
Harvest and Storage
The seeds of the sunflowers will be ready when the back of the flower heads turn brown. Since birds and other animals like sunflowers, netting the flower heads may be required to get your share. Cut the stalk below the flower head leaving enough stalk to serve as a handle and rub the seeds off with a gloved hand. If the heads are a bit damp, they can be hung in a dry area until ready to shell. Seeds can be eaten immediately or roasted. For longer term storage it is best to rinse the seeds in salted water to clean them and eliminate any pests. Dry the rinsed seeds well then store in a cool dark area. Seeds can also be frozen for even longer storage.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor