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

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.