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The Mammoth Sunflower

Over the weekend, on a break from the world of small business taxes, I filled out my seed catalog orders. In the end, the full flow of garden dreaming excitement never hit me. I didn’t find myself attempting new challenges outside our norm (like eggplant) like I usually do. In catalog orders of the past, I’ve been eager to at least try some new things. Not so much this year.

Last year, I went to our seed stash before placing my orders, taking inventory of saved-over heirlooms seeds, and filling in the gaps or supporting certain varieties. This year, I didn’t do that either. I pretty much know what’s there — nothing from last year, and only remnants from the year before. So, I figured I’d just stick to the basics, and basically start from scratch. Other than pumpkin seed, we pretty much needed all the basics.

The list started with a pound on Gray Mammoth Sunflower seed, which I grow and harvest for our hens and feathered friend feeders. They have huge blooms that make harvesting a little easier, but I have a second use for these towering stalks — fence reinforcement and bean poles.

Two years ago, I happened to just pick up a pack of this seed somewhere while shopping. The garden was already started, and so I just stuck some seed in around the new fence line at the end where we’d just expanded. The fence there was shorter than the 8 foot fencing we have around the original garden plot, so I figured the sunflowers might help.

They were helpful – to a point. A row of 12 foot tall sunflowers each a foot apart from the others, just inside the fence did deter some deer from just leaping over the short fence into the garden. When dealing with deer, any deterrence is a good thing. The problem is, I can only plant the sunflowers along the fence on the north side of the garden. Planted on the southern side, they’d cover three rows of carrots and onions with shade.

I also have been known to use the sunflower stalks (that get up to 3 inches thick) as support poles in the green bean rows. Instead of bean poles, we run fencing down the rows of beans, so they can just climb the fence. But we’ve always had a problem with the fence sagging as time passed, the more the beans grew, the more the fencing sagged. So last year, about 2 weeks before we even planted the beans, I laid out the rows and planted a sunflower seed about every eight to ten feet. Two, and then four weeks later, we planted the beans, and put the fence down the row. By then, the sunflowers had a good head start, and looked as though they would offer the additional support needed later in the season — but then the big wind storm came and flattened them, fence, flowers, beans and all.

I’m going to try that again this year.

Some may think it odd that we grow these huge sunflowers to harvest and we really don’t eat the seed ourselves. The hens and birds get the seed, the fence and beans get support from their stalks and we — well, we get to enjoy the beauty of foot-wide blossoms towering high above our heads all summer. That’s good enough for me.