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Some observations on sunflowers  RSS feed

 
Posts: 221
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I made up twelve 3x3 "raised bed" gardens for sunflowers this year.  They were placed on layers of newspaper on top of old pasture, and filled with peat moss, topsoil and compost (in that order).  Sunflowers were planted 6 inches from the corners and 1 inch from corners and in the center of the 3x3 pole beans were planted.  I think I planted 6 different varieties of sunflower, one (two?) of which were black seed.   Some of the seed was "discount".  Either 1, 2 or 3 seeds were planted per hole.  If multiple plants germinated, they were thinned out at about 6-10 inch tall.  Beans were planted after sunflower germination (they were inoculated).

Early on, there was some predation of sunflower leaves, but I didn't know what (I live at 56North, anything feeding at night I wouldn't have seen as the days are too long).  This was much more of a problem for the beans, and it was only a couple of weeks ago I discovered that the culprit seems to be slugs.  I can't get nematodes active for slugs here, so I am using beer traps.  Seems to be working.

I have one 3x3 by itself on the south side of a sheltered area that is horseshoe shaped (open to east), two sites at the east end of the south leg of the horseshoe and nine sites in the horseshoe.  The two sites at the east end are closest to what one might call a hay pasture.  Those two sites are the only places I believe I have had deer predation of the sunflowers.  Of the 8 planting locations in these two 3x3, I think I got 5 sunflower plants.  At about the 1 foot to 1.5 foot level, all 5 of these sunflowers lost their heads to deer.  Some lost one or more leaves to deer.  One plant lost head and all leaves to deer.

This one plant, about a week ago has activated alternate growth nodes at places in the stalk where the branch of a leaf came out.  All of these decapitated sunflowers are still alive, but are sort of like zombies.

Today, I noticed that one sunflower in the only 3x3 where I got 4 locations with sunflowers, no longer had a head.  I am going to guess wind.  The horseshoe shaped area is susceptible to wind form the east, it is pretty much protected from other directions.  As an experiment, today I came along and cut all the leaves off (just leaving the "branch" sticking out of the stalk) to see if this prompts the plant to activate other growth nodes (probably too late to mature at this point).  I watered all my zombies today (I don't usually water the sunflowers - I also have Jerusalem artichokes in this location and they seem to need water occasionally).  Tonight I went out to check my zombies, and I noticed that this last decapitated sunflower which I deleaved today, is still tracking the sun.  About the top 4 inches of the stalk is pivoting to track the sun.

At this time, one of my sunflowers is in bloom.  I suspect it is an "original" sunflower, as it has another head forming off the stalk as well.  The tallest sunflower I have, is about 4 feet tall.  Some of these varieties are expected to get to 14 feet, so obviously this poor soil (mostly peat moss) is not providing much.  I do think the sunflowers have penetrated the newspaper, but the pasture is on heavy clay.

I have given the sunflowers some water this year (3 times), where I have one teaspoon of borax per gallon of water.

Perhaps this is of interest/use to others.

I kept getting an error about abbreviations.  I used the capital letter which comes after "tee", and I've replaced that with horseshoe above.  Maybe that works?
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 221
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Hmm, talking to myself again.  Seems normal for autism.

The zombie sunflower I de-leaved  is still tracking the sun.  There is an error, and I will assume this is because the measurement is distributed, and because part of the measurement is in the now missing head, the error exists.

I do have a question for those who have grown sunflowers with pole beans.  Does the pole beans wrapping around the sunflower stalk restrict the sunflower?

 
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I have noticed that some of the sunflowers that got pole beans on them that were vigorous got slightly pulled off plum but otherwise they don't seem to do much.
 
pollinator
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Location: SF Bay Area
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Rats will eat the heads off sunflowers. I have no idea why it's still tracking the sun though, maybe it's like phantom limb syndrome, the plant doesn't know that it's gone.
 
pollinator
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Location: RRV of da Nort
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Stacy Witscher wrote:....I have no idea why it's still tracking the sun though, maybe it's like phantom limb syndrome, the plant doesn't know that it's gone.



"....heliotropism (sun tracking), Harmer said, involves more than the sunflowers’ ability to detect where the sun is.
Part of the behaviour involves a 24-hour “internal clock,” also called a circadian cycle, which also explains the plants’ ability to “reset” back towards the east overnight in the absence of any sunlight.
"The plant anticipates the timing and the direction of dawn, and to me that looks like a reason to have a connection between the clock and the growth pathway," Harmer wrote in the study. "It's the first example of a plant's clock modulating growth in a natural environment, and having real repercussions for the plant.” -- http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/sunflowers-use-internal-clock-to-track-the-sun-study-1.3015991
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 221
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Associated with my sunflower plantings, are 3 pots (18 inch) into which I had planted a relative of sunflower, the Jerusalem artichoke (JA).  This note is about that.

I planted the JA into pots, on concern for not be able to collect all the tubers large enough to start a new plant.  I had purchased "some" JA tubers, which ended up meaning three pieces of tuber.  I would not be surprised if all three pieces came from the same plant.  None of my 3 JA plantings, developed a flower head.  And they fought brown spot all year.  I would typically have 2 or 3 generations of leaves that had some green to them, the rest were all basically dead from this brownspot thing.

The soil mix for the three JA was closer to soil than what the sunflower got, it was a mixture of topsoil, vermiculite, peat and compost.

This particular JA, was the one which showed signs of wilting the earliest, all summer.

This summer came off a 7 month winter, where we began the winter in October with three heavy snowfalls, and I believe nearly all of that snowfall melted and entered the soil.  And the soil here is nearly all clay (Glacial lake bottom).  Most of the winter was relatively mild, with few cold days (ongoing trend) and the occasional chinook which melted/sublimated nearly any snow on the ground.  And then for Easter, we got another big snowfall, which led into spring.  That ground moisture was almost all we had for the spring and summer, and towards the end of summer drought stress was being seen in trees all over.

I carefully pulled the plant out of the soil, so as to not lose soil to the surrounding clay, fescue and weeds.  I carefully brushed away soil and captured tuber fragments.  I don't recall seeing anything like a taproot.  The "stem" was actually many stems, which seemed to break into 3 pieces.  The stem part which continued below ground looks quite similar to the tubers in colour.  I wonder if that part is edible as well, or if that is to be removed?  In any event, I got a pile of 15-20 pieces of tuber.

The above ground portion, and a big chunk of the root mass surrounding the tubers, was put into my recently constructed compost bin (internal dimensions close to 31 inches on an edge - a cube).
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 221
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I've also "destructed" four of 12 raised bed gardens for the sunflowers.  These are made from (old) 2x6, and are 3x3 feet in size.  Sunflowers were planted 6 inches in from each corner, which gives a 2 foot spacing between sunflowers.  Pole beans (from some commercial packet of 3 different kinds of pole beans) were planted 1 inch from corners, or int he center (5 plantings per bed).  Most of the sunflower locations did germinate, with some of these locations have 2 (and occassionally 3) plants per location, which were thinned out at some point by me.

The plantings were set up by putting 2 or 3 layers of newspaper on the ground (old pasture) and then setting the wood raised bed on top.  Or, that would be the description if there was no wind.  We seldom have days of no wind.  About 3 inches of peat moss were placed in the bed, and then about 1 inch of topsoil, and then some compost (sheep manure, commercial) on top.

During the growing season, I observed some weeds coming up.  As many of the weeds I have no idea of the identity, it was hard to guess a source.  The most common weed was grass.  I have seen clover, vetch and wild rose (my farm has tons of wild rose).  And of course, dandelion.

We have a lot of deer in the neighbourhood, and they wiped out two of my sunflower plantings early in the growing season.  One sunflower in particular had the head and all the leaves removed by the deer.  It later went on to activate new growth nodes, and was trying to recover.  But it was so far behind, it never had a chance.  Later in the season with a sunflower maybe twice as tall (at 3 feet), after a wind event knocked the head off, I cut all the leaves off.  I was looking to see if this would kick start it into activating other growth nodes, and that didn't happen.

I pulled the sunflowers up by the stalk, and removed the "soil" that was embedded in the root ball.  The largest sunflower pulled was in the 3-4 foot tall range, and the root mass was nearly 1/4 of the 3x3 planting.  For all 4 of the planters investigated so far, I seen no evidence of sunflower roots going through the newspaper bottom and into the clay soil underneath.  In only a single circumstance, did I see evidence for a taproot.  I don't know if the taproot penetrated the paper, but if it did it may have just been lying between the paper and the clay soil filled with fescue sod that was 40 years old.  I seen no evidence of worms in any of the 4 planters.  I suspect this might be drought related.  If we would have had regular rain, maybe the newspaper would have rotted enough for worms to move.  If there were worms in the clay under these planters.

People talk about nitrogen support for the corn and squash by the beans in Three Sisters plantings.  Some have wondered how this comes to be.  Some suggested it is the nitrogen in the roots, vine and pods.  Well, the root mass of all of the bean plants pulled up so far is really underimpressive.  I can't see how that is the powerful nitrogen source.  And the vine and pod looks pretty meagre too.  My guess is that the roots are sort of analagous to a series of ditches on slope, and a bucket is used to lift water from the bottom of one ditch to the top of the adjacent ditch.  And so, some water can be lost in the transfer.  If that is how the roots function in pulling up water (and injecting nitrogen), maybe it is at each bucket lift station, that nitrogen is transferred to nearby plants?

I had planted daikon radish in some of these plantings mid summer (where there were sunflower failures), and I never seen a single one germinate.  Not enough soil?

I did plant buckwheat in some locations where sunflower had failed, and buckwheat did germinate and grow.  I would not characterise what grew as something which could outcompete a weed.  I think the tallest buckwheat I got, was 6 inches at time of first frost.  It did have little flowers on it.

In one planter (which the deer had gotten too early), in the process of digging up the "soil" (which is peat, and a bit of soil), I found a live mouse in the "soil".  And another.  Eventually, I disposed of 5 "mice".  Seemed to have a pointier nose than I was expecting, so maybe some relative of the mouse.

At this point, I have 4 finished blossoms cut at ground level, hanging in the garage upside down with paper bags over the blossoms.  They were cut just before the first freeze and second freeze.  Some of the sunflowers continue to live, and I currently have 2 plants with blossoms where about half the seed disk has been remodelled in the process of exposing male and female parts to lfowerets.  I have a third freeze expected this weekend, so these plants will also get cut and hung upside down in the garage soon.  I did see a couple of bumblebees on the one blossom today.

 
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