A few years ago (three , I think- it might feel like we’ve been here forever, but really, it ‘s hasn’t been that long) we planted a couple of rows of sunflowers in the garden. We fed all of the plants & seeds to the animals and Megan saved seed for future plantings. This year, Megan again planted sunflowers, and while we will again feed the seeds and stalks to our animals, we also used the plant to act as shade and trellis. Or at least that was the intention.
Bed # 3 – the garden bed farthest up the hill from the house, but next to the green houses still (one day I’ll post a map and you can all picture the garden layout. Until then, just pretend.) Megan planted every other row in sunflowers using the seed she saved from those first flowers. In between the rows of sunflowers we planted broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and carrots so they would have shade and not be exposed to the harsh sun. The sunflowers grew so fast they provided fabulous shade for the brassicas & the carrots – we just finished harvesting the last of the broccoli now in January. With the shade of the sunflowers the broccoli held in the garden nearly a month longer than last year without bolting. Success!!
As trellis, however, the sunflowers have been, as Megan puts it, a total failure. Megan debated over trying to use the sunflowers as trellis as her research showed that there was some debate as to what would grow planted in companion with the sunflowers. Some sources said the beans and squash (cucumber, in our case) would do well – other sources argued that sunflowers are fairly allelopathic, meaning they secrete some something from their roots which inhibits the growth of other plants around their base. Once the sunflowers were tall enough Megan planted beans and cucumber seeds at the base of the sunflowers. Few if any cucumber seeds germinated and the bean plants have had very, very poor growth. So, next year the sunflowers can be shade but we’ll skip the trellis expectations.
On an entirely separate note, the sunflowers are beautiful to just enjoy. As my sister made comment, they are the only colorful thing on the farm right now. Even if they do block Jon’s view of the water tower from the house.