How Many Can One Sunflower Feed?September 21, 2011
Yesterday the squirrels told me it was time to harvest my sunflowers. Apparently, they’re better at keeping track of what’s ready than I am.
At the beginning of the month, the honeybees made their beelines to the tall, yellow, nodding flower heads. There, they gathered their fill of pollen and nectar. And, they spread around the pollen, helping these wondrous flowers form large, protein-packed seeds. In just a few short weeks, the pretty yellow centers began to fade as the black and white striped seeds began to fatten.
Yesterday, a pesky squirrel found them. Or maybe he found them weeks ago and had just been waiting for the perfect moment to dive into the delicious seedy feast. In any case, I caught him in the act of devouring a batch of seed from a head he had chewed off one of the tall flower stalks.
Damn fuzzy tailed little rat piggy. I’ve got your IPM number – HARVEST!
I chased him away. I gathered up the seed head he had harvested and made a note to harvest the rest soon — if possible, letting them spend a little longer drawing energy from the plant.
I placed the partially chewed seed-filled flower head in the greenhouse to dry it and keep it for the birds when winter snows bury the ground. Then, I went inside.
About an hour later, I went back out. And that darn rodent had chomped down another head, which I also gathered up to store, after chasing him away. I then cut down every remaining seed-laden flower head.
To harvest them, I usually cut the flower with about 12″-24″ of stem attached. The seeds can draw from this for a bit to “finish”, and by having the stalk dry with the flower, I have a built-in “hook” to use for looping the seed head into bare branches in winter to feed the birds. This makes for fast, easy work in freezing temps. And, it makes it a little more tough for squirrels and rats to steal the seeds from the trees. Usually, the little chickadees and other birds have an easier time of feeding directly from the face of the dried flower heads.
Now they’re all “curing” in the dry, warm greenhouse where they’ll keep wonderfully until winter.
And that squirrel?
Well, right now there’s food aplenty for him. It is the harvest season after all. He’s already chomped on a few of my tomatoes, which he now leaves alone. And, all around the neighborhood, he’ll find wild hazelnuts, oregon grape and many more food sources in great abundance.
So, squirrel, go find something else to eat. I’ll be the ant to your grasshopper. You and the birds will be relieved this winter when I set out these big, fat “Snack Seed” Sunflower seed heads (courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds).
…Assuming I don’t eat them first.
(Renee’s Garden provided this seed for free on a trial basis. No other compensation has been provided for this article.)