(Helpful Hint #1: Click pictures to see larger versions)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

February Showers Bring - March Sunflowers?

This is a special flash report for the Sunflower Club.

Tonight there is rain, a wonderful amount of thunder and lightning, and a whole lot of water. So while I suppose we can't necessarily expect the frost to be over, we can at least delight in the idea of an early growing season!

Here's a picture from last summer that will be familiar to some, and new to others, a reminder that spring and summer is around the corner. This is Grishnak, a mantis I raised, wishing everyone a happy birthday, whenever that may be.

(you can click to see a larger view if you feel that you are mentally prepared for the prospect of seeing Grishnak's pupils at close range.)

(For those of you coming new to this, last summer in 2008 we experimented with a central site at www.sunflowerclub.net, and may still go back to it - there's some nice links there - but for the moment I'm jumping on the original blog. For the 2008 season, see http://todd.sunflowerclub.net - for 2007, see below, bottom up.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reaching for the Sun

This afternoon there was a nice bit of winter sun shining in, and just in time; the sproutlings seemed to be stretching for the light, and I ended up re-arranging things so that the pots are right by the window. In the picture below the sproutlings are on the left.

Here is another perspective on the matter; you can see at the top of the seedling, the leaves are opening up.

A close-up of the sun-seekers. A day or two ago when the seedlings reached a certain height, they were getting beyond their time and were flopping over, so I plunked a couple of chopsticks down in the soil, and used a couple of bread twisty things to stake the seedlings and give them a little support.

(It felt like the stems were too delicate to be twisted directly or bound tightly, so I twisted one end of the twisty to the chopstick, and then curled the other end around without directly tying it on the stems.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

3.5 inches and sprouting

This is getting scary again. It's only been FIVE DAYS, and the dang sproutmonster is up to 3.5 inches. Hmmm. I wonder if each new generation of monsters grows faster?

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Seeds Have Spouted!

It was discovered today that we have some confirmed sprouters! Hadn't expected the sprouts so soon, but thanks to the temperature conditions of the nearby furnace and the copious moisture, and the eagerness of this new generation of seeds for world takeover, it does appear that we are a go.

I was actually a little surprised at how robust the teeny little monsters had grown. Sprouting in 2 of three pots.

Here we see the three sprouter pots against the winter backdrop of the back yard, eagerly awaiting the distribution and planting of seeds . . .

It was also discovered today that Peter Rabbit, who turns to stone whenever someone looks at him, is in hibernation after the recent surprise snowings.

Here we see the tops of Peter's ears sprouting above his hastily constructed igloo:

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Planting

Ok I took the plunge, on this wintery, blustery day; a "winter storm warning", lots o inches of snow expected overnight -- and rather than working on my dissertation, I decided it would be more fun to finally get these dang seeds planted, to see if the whole batch is going to be gerbil food, or monster sunflowers.

Dropped by Ace Hardware, and was the only customer in the store; everyone else was probably hunkering down getting ready to play on their XBox or something; got some potting soil and some little pots.

And some "Seed Starter Professional Potting Mix":

And nearby on the windowsill next to the kitchen table, were a few tempting tomes; Persepolis, very cool, graphic novel about a girl growing up in Iran, and "Bananas", about the United Fruit Company. The United Fruit Company was very naughty and did lots of naughty things in Latin America over the last hundred years. The folks at the retail chain Banana Republic probably do not carry this book in their stores.

These are the first three seeds here, either the start of a revolution in monster sunflower growth, or the beginning of a copious snack for some lucky set of rodents.

Ok, so I put the soil in the pots, pushed the seeds down in the potting mixture, and began to pour water on them, it was a little like pouring water on a cup half full of cocoa. Then things got out of control and water started going everywhere, and I had to turn over an old frisbee so i could pour more water to saturate the soil, but then things calmed down, and here we are:

So the world waits with bated breath to see whether the seeds will actually sprout?

Inquiring minds want to know. If the seeds sprout, then the Sunflower Club will start. If the seeds do not sprout, then we will have to go another season, seeing if non-hybrid mammoth greystripe seeds can be obtained (hybrids supposedly will not sprout).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Seed Time

Here's a short visual tour of the first annual Sunflower Seed Harvest.

In the coming weeks, we will plant some indoor seedlings (minus the peat moss and cow poo -- see last Summer) in order to determine whether these sunflower seeds will actually grow plants -- or if the birds and gerbils will have some tasty morsels.

We weren't sure quite how the seeds would be harvested, so we set up some newspaper and just began prying them loose, adhering carefully to international standards on sunflower seed harvesting as determined by the Ministry of Harvesting of the Gerbil Liberation Front.

A close-up of the seeds. It is fascinating how the seeds pack together.

Sunflower harvesting is an opportunity to get the whole family involved. Here we see Linda Kelsey, B.S., M.S., C.A.S., C.S.S. (mom actually does have that many letters after her name, although she doesn't use them, and it's a bit challenging to remember what they all mean, it could probably just as well be Linda Kelsey, x10 or something)

Here we see how an industrious seed harvester is applying their strength to the process -- sometimes the material is hard-edged, and some may prefer wearing gloves.

Sometimes you can just run your fingers along and the seeds will come right off -- into a tray, for example. The next challenge becomes -- how do you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, or rather, the seed from the chaff?

Fortunately for us, Fred (the former family farmer) was free to fraternize and figured out a method for non-farmers to "winnow" with the tray of seeds and chaff, by bringing the tray outside.

The sunflower seed chaff winnowing technique involves a combination of flipping the tray up as if you are flipping pancakes . . . .

And blowing over the tray -- hard enough to blow the chaff away, but trying to avoid blowing all of the seeds over the tray as well. It is likely that when using this technique, aside from adding environmentally friendly compost to your lawn, you will also pay the bird and varmint tax, adding a number of seeds to the ground. But the method works pretty well, and is quicker than picking individual seeds up from a tray -- especially when you have a plane to catch imminently back to Chicago on new year's day. It's important to winnow the seeds quickly, especially when you're about to travel, so that you can spend the maximum amount of time at the airport waiting for O'Hare to decide whether to delay your flight again or cancel it entirely. Fortunately when flying in and out of Chicago, there is also the opportunity to use Midway airport, which is a better option, and also endorsed by the Sunflower Farmer Grower's Association, the Presidential Candidates in a Hurry to Reach Another Primary Association, and the Ministry of Travel of the Gerbil Liberation Front.

Free parental labor is a wonderful thing. At this stage of the harvest it is especially important to keep your eyes open for marauding varmints.

When you are done, you may wish to run upstairs like a ridiculous buffoon and risk not making your flight, and find an image of a sunflower and add some text in a program like Photoshop, and then print them out, and tape a pseudo label on the zip loc bag.

All told, a lot of work for only about a pound of sunflower seeds (minus all of the seeds that the marauding chipmunk army obtained earlier in the year, plus the bird tax, and the winnowing surplus seeds flying into the lawn tax).

However . . . .

The point is not to eat the seeds per se, but to now engage in some testing to see whether these seeds are capable of spawning a new generation of sunflower monsters.

No longer do we have one little wimpy packet, resulting in a dozen or so 1-story voracious beasts who are ready to terrorize the neighbor's little yappy dog -- now we have three bags full of seeds -- who knows -- 200, 300, 400 seeds?

Imagine, a field full of 12 foot monsters -- or better yet, pockets of sunflower invasion scattered throughout the country, resulting in . . .


Tune in next post as preparations begin for seed germinating testing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

159 inch Gargantuans

That's 13 feet, 3 inches. (4 meters)

So the tallest one of them all, Chief Sequoia, is also known as Lurch, and Lurch has finally bloomed!

(And if I'm lucky they won't grow any taller, so that I don't get in trouble for violating city ordinances for scaring people.)

When you stand next to these things, you kind of get this odd feeling like you might be in a prehistoric forest.

Actually this past week, you might possibly have heard on the news that there were some tornadoes and crazy storms that passed through Chicago. I missed the 90mph winds in downtown Chicago as I was in the suburbs when the worst hit there -- then just after I left home to visit a friend in Plainfield, the storms hit our area. But situating the sequoia monsters in a corner proved to be fortuitous -- they got rained on pretty heavy, but were protected somewhat by the house itself -- and that twine stuff, tying it around them, helped.

The junior varsity team got hit a little harder, but if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger, as the saying goes. This is a rare shot of one of the junior varsity flowers actually leaning back and gargling. Or perhaps it is in the act of swallowing one of the wasps that wandered too close. (The one on the right is spitting out a small rat.)

This is a slightly odd thing for a train station to say so early in the morning.

No modem. Ok.

To give the station credit, it was just after all the storms and mayhem had passed through, after the electricity had been shut down all around, and so on.

A modem is what a computer used to have so it could dial up other computers and engage in meaningful conversation.

And to bring crowning glory to Chief Sequoia and the mighty band of warrior flowers, the Daily Herald article ran today. It made me laugh out loud. I needed that; I've been taking myself so seriously lately.

Looking at this picture I realize that at the time, I wasn't really paying attention. It appears that Gigantor was leaning down to give me a playful bite on the shoulder, to teach me a lesson about not keeping my guard up.

Sometimes while I'm tending to them, they like to reach down and pick me up by the nape of the neck, and shake me around a little and pretend I'm a muppet. One or twice they've actually ganged up on me when I've been weeding, picked me up by the feet, and tried to shake my cell phone out of my pocket. (I've lost several phones in this manner, so I always get the replacement insurance.) I think they just like the taste of cell phones.

(Click on image to see larger version)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunflower Seeds

Picking up on the topic of sunflower seeds, it was brought to my attention that there is an organization called the Gerbil Liberation Front, which is keenly interested in the availability of the sunflower seeds. They are a group of mutant gerbils from an experiment gone wild at University of Chicago, and they claim that "they want to plant some sunflowers". But I suspect the sunflower seeds would not make it very far.

Their motives are a bit questionable I think.

For example, this character showed up on my doorstep, who "just happened to be passing by".

He was asking about when sunflower seeds might be available for "planting in his garden", but he looked rather suspicious, and kept rubbing his hands together in anticipation and wrinkling his nose.

My suspicions turned out to be true. Due to some careful investigative reporting, I was able to uncover video footage of members of the Gerbil Liberation Front voraciously consuming sunflowers, in this video that was posted to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jkOeJ5T3Lg

And an anonymous source provided another piece of evidence; a poem entitled "Sunflower Seed", which reveals the true clandestine purposes of the Gerbil Liberation Front. To listen to an audio recording of the evidence, right click here and save the mp3 file to your computer -- then you can double click to listen to it, or import it into iTunes and put it on your iPod.

Note: If you listen to the evidence, you may have trouble making out the words, since a gerbil's voice is a bit high pitched, and when they get excited they become unintelligible, maniacally babbling on about sunflower seeds, which they dearly love. So I've included a transcript to help you follow along:

Sunflower Seeds

I see you coming with that look in your eye
I see you coming with a gift from on high
Vast fields of beauty, stretching for sun
you played the Reaper, harvest time has come

I know you've got the goods
You know I want the goods
I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

I'll pay the price of what you've got in your hand
From south dakota from the promised land
They photosynthesize my seeds of destruction
They drive me wild to heights of mindless consumption

I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum
more more more more more more more more more more more more more more more more

I'll do some tricks I'll pick up sticks I'll run around I'll make a sound
I'll spin the wheel I'll do the deed
name anything, just one more seed

I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

156" and fend off the paparazzi!

Today was fun; it's been raining a lot lately -- hazy, muggy, the sunflowers were not having much fun, although I guess they enjoyed the water. But today the sun came out and peeped over the rooftop, just about the time the Daily Herald photographer showed up. The paper doesn't send you copies of the pictures, so I tried to recreate the spirit of the photo shoot below with my rinky dink camera. The photographer was good natured and agreed to shoot some silly shots, but I don't know if any of them will end up getting in the paper, so here goes:


This is where it all begins. With a seed.

(Note: I haven't worn a friendship bracelet in a long time, but I was kind of blown away by a recent visit to the offices of Warm Blankets Foundation, where they gave me this bracelet, and where I learned more about how they rescue kids from all kinds of situations in Cambodia and the Sudan. I guess kids are a little like seeds -- they need water, and food, and sun and fun. If you like you can read more about the visit at my other blog by clicking here.)

Start with a seed -- then, before you know it, you have a bunch of monsters growing in your back yard!

At first glance, this looks like a normal everyday picture of 12 foot tall sunflowers. But wait, what's that in the background, right by the tallest sunflower?

If you look closer to the right of the tallest flower in the middle of the picture, below you'll see the measuring tape sticking up. Thanks to my friend Mark Neal, who knows about these things, there's this special technique for measuring something that is twice as tall as you are. You basically set the end of the measuring tape on the ground, get it up to about your height, and then bend the measuring tape around, hold the part pointing towards the ground, let more tape out, and then kind of push the angle up. Then it's kind of tricky when you try to figure out how many inches tall the tape is telling you that your carnivorous sunflowers are, because you can't quite see the measuring tape, and you're keeping an eye on the sunflowers in case they didn't succeed in ushering very many squirrels into squirrel heaven the night before. So it usually takes two people, one standing from the angle of this picture, telling the "taper" when to stop.

Or something like that.

This past sunday morning as I was about to head out the door, the doorbell rang, and I was surprised to find two young ladies who asked if they could see the sunflowers. It was actually raining, but it didn't stop them; their friend evidently walks the neighborhood and saw one of the lovely brutes sticking his head around the corner of the house. (It was probably hungry and looking for a yappy dog or it may have just been defending itself from one of the crazed vampire rabbits that frequents the area.) So I was happy to oblige them and they gave me their camera so I could take their picture with the sunflowers. I guess that means that sunflowers can actually have fans Watch out Brad Bitt and Angelina Jolie, here come the sunflowers!

A recreation of the sunflower fans, showing a curious onlooker, entranced by the wondrous power of the sunflower seed:

It's important to realize that when sunflowers get hungry, they get kind of crabby. They're friendly enough creatures, but after all, they're sentient beings, and they're not vegetarian.

So if it's been awhile since a careless goat or an unsuspecting yak has wandered by, it's a good idea to carry an ax with you. You don't need to actually use the ax, you just need to brandish it a little. Sometimes you can even catch the sunflower in the right mood, and get it to ham things up a little:

The end of the summer is not too far away; lately things have just been . . . well . . . surreal.

How can you have 13 feet worth of sunflowers growing nearby and not get that summery autumn surreal feeling?

For anyone who made it this far, especially if you're visiting from the Daily Herald article, or for anyone else for that matter (like if you want me to let you know if I end up giving away or selling monster seeds), who has a comment, a question about the sunflowers or who would like to arrange a visit or to get the sunflowers' autographs, here's my email address:

Also if you enjoyed this blog it would also be really cool if you could click the little envelope icon (below and to the right of this sentence), and email this blog to 1 or 2 friends, and ask them to do the same if they dig it. Spread the word about the monsters!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

News Flash - The Origins of Sunflowers

My cousin Kendra is a biologist, and now has some progeny as well. (If you can't tell, I like playing Scrabble). Kendra contributed some information about sunflowers:

"A recent paper showed that they were domesticated from their wild ancestors in North America about 10,000 years ago-- much earlier than previously thought. They are from a plant family (Asteraceae) with incredibly high diversity. The picture you have of "daisies" is another member of that family, Rudbeckia hirta, native to North America and now in horticultural production."

Rudbeckia hirta it is -- as long as they don't turn into rutabeggas that hurt you.

Ok so if they've been around for 10,000 years -- doesn't that make you wonder?

Perhaps the mammoth greystripes are a breed that were like munchies for dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs went away, but the sunflowers stayed around.

10,000 years is probably enough time to develop a latent form of conscious that awakes when you add 50% peat moss and 50% poo as fertilizer . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2007

147" - defying gravity

Ok I thought things were ridiculous before, but now they're really getting ridiculous.

Check out my "Illinois Tech" t-shirt. I was down on the IIT campus in Chicago today and realized here I am working on my PhD dissertation and I don't even have a t-shirt!

(I was down there having lunch with an IIT student from Sudan, trying to understand more about how things work in Khartoum, the seat of government, towards the end of seeing if there's a way to provide free learning material to Sudan in both the North and South. This sort of idea is along the lines of my dissertation.)

Ok back to sunflowers. Yes you heard it right; 147" -- that's 12 feet, 3 inches -- taller than the tallest man in the world. A Ukrainian guy just broke the record, taking it away from a Chinese guy, and the tallest man on record was from Illinois, but he was somewhere down in the ten feet range. And we're talking TWELVE feet, 3 inches.

I think I'm calling the tallest Gigantor.

Take a close look at the picture again -- it's like 2 x me = scary.

And in the backyard we have the junior varsity league, with a bloomer on the far left.

These sunflowers are more "normal" sunflowers.

This is an interesting creature that I found in one of the experimental gardens. I have no idea what it is, but he was hoping for more rain, or more tasty edible bugs to happen by. I can't tell by the looks of him whether he's a vegetarian or carnivore or insectivore or whatever it would be.

And I figured I'd better take a picture of these dandies in the very back, while they're still in bloom. What a gardener I am, I didn't even plant them (previous owner) -- and what's more, I'm only half certain of what they're called; daisies I believe?

If you take a real close look at the first picture, you might notice this little friendly flower, one of the less monsterly types, in with Gigantor and the senior varsity sunflower squad.

Special news flash, courtesy of friend Mash from UK:

"pulled off http://www.sunflowernsa.com/

What is the height of the tallest sunflower?
A sunflower grown in the Netherlands holds the record for being the tallest sunflower in the world. It measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records"

Thursday, August 2, 2007

137" and starting to eat the livestock

Ok. Let's admit it. Things are getting out of control. When a sunflower mistakes you for a small yappy dog and looks down at you with that gleam in its eye, you have to wonder about the theories of supposed science. I mean, hasn't science told us that sunflowers are not capable of thinking, much less eating? Look at the sunflower in the picture above, for example.

Does this sunflower look unintelligent?

Or silly?

No, the flower's name is morpheus, and he looks like he is ready to consume a small yappy dog. But since he is trained not to eat it, he'll just set it down again when it stops yapping.

Mathwise 137" equals, um, 11 feet and 5 inches.

What is wrong with this picture above? I think the score is:

Sunflowers = 10
House = 0

I hope that sunflowers don't eat houses.

But it's nice to know their outside my window, in case dracula comes along.

Ok, to go on a completely different note. Here is a another sunflower, much smaller, but just as wonderful:

It is the green laptop from One Laptop Per Child. A group of fun professors from the MIT Media Lab who got together and thought, ok, let's make a laptop as inexpensive as possible, with the latest technology, able to withstand heat, direct sunlight, and be quite fun to explore, and make them available to the developing world. And a lot of people said, no way, can't be done. But they did it. As a personal note, what I'm hoping to do as a volunteer, is to help make some learning material on the laptops, so little kids and can grow up in their minds and learning. Like sunflowers? I suppose so.

And here are some more sunflowers; some patient friends at work with a lot of knowledge in their heads, who were willing to come out to lunch today in Chicago, and brainstorm with me on how to go about saving the world.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Butterflies and Bees

(monsters at dusk)

Ok as of Friday at measuring time, the sunflowers have broken 120" in height, that's officially the size of 1 story of a building.

It's interesting to see them start to bloom.

Another things that's been happening lately is the orange and yellow wildflower committee has been going bonkers, and they're starting to attract butterflies; today a Monarch visited to take care of some business.

And it appears that the bees are interested in getting in on the action as well.

And here we have the entire happy family, along with a sunflower starting to bloom.