Sunflowers are a must in my summer garden. This spring I planted the seeds around the inside of my garden fence, and they sprouted up in no time.
The first and fastest grower was the Mammoth Sunflower, which grew to a whopping ten feet tall! The bloom itself was a good 15 inches from petal to petal. It was so heavy that even the 6" inch diameter stalk it grew on couldn't quite support it, so it just hung it's head and slowly went to seed.
But that was fine with me because the seeds are really what I'm after. Sure, I love a beautiful 15" bloom as much as anybody, but the seeds are such a tasty and nutritious treat for my chickens that I don't mind it when the flower fades. I watch for this to happen, then I cut the sunflower head off and let it dry in the greenhouse for a few days. Once I'm convinced that all the moisture has evaporated out of the seeds, I rake them into a mason jar and store them in the cabinet. There they sit until in winter is in full swing, the snow is flying, and the garden is frozen solid. That's when I reach in the cabinet, grab a jar of seeds, and head out to the coop.
I think the flock can smell them coming, because they're always gathered at the door, quivering with anticipation as they watch me approach. I usually just end up emptying out the jar right there at the door because they won't even let me through to the feeder! They squawk and scratch like crazy, furiously pecking at the seeds. If you'd like to see a happy chicken, just come over next time I do this. They are thrilled, to put it simply, and so am I--everybody needs a little winter pick-me-up!
I'm drawn to plants with a purpose. I like to grow things that have some sort of uniqueness to them: a great story, an unusual feature, a creative use. So, heirloom vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs make up the bulk of my cottage style garden. I also have a vegetable plot, berry patches, fruit trees, and herb and cutting flower beds. In maintaining all this, I strive to be as organic as possible by using techniques like companion planting, rotating my crops, and composting kitchen scraps and yard clippings. All this comes together to create a cleaner environment for my family, my livestock, and my gardens.