How We (try our best to) Cultivate Sunflowers with Regenerative Techniques
At the heart of our farm, we have contemplated and attempted, in many situations, to embark on a journey towards regenerative farming practices. Our commitment to sustainability for our farm and beyond has led us to explore the world of regenerative cut flower practices specifically sunflowers, as a beautiful, profitable, and low-maintenance staple of our production.
In this blog post, we hope to delve into the regenerative cultivation practices of sunflowers that we have explored on our farm over the past 5 years explaining the successes and failures of our attempts. We will try to point out and highlight the key practices that make them a winning choice for both our farm and your home.
Why do we choose Sunflowers for our Cut Flower Farm?
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are just so darn cheery! Their vibrant blooms and sunny disposition have been captivating gardeners' hearts forever. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, sunflowers are fairly easy to grow/ harvest and they also offer some unique cultivation benefits that align perfectly with our regenerative farming philosophy.
Our approach to sunflower cultivation aims to employ minimal tillage, a practice that reduces soil disturbance and minimizes carbon release from the soil into the atmosphere. So what do we mean by minimal tillage on our farm? This has been the real head-scratcher on our farm for the past few years because our first attempts were to do no-till but this definitely had its challenges for a couple of reasons. At our farm, we weed wack and use occlusion tarps to kill the previously spent crops. At a flower farm, this can be quite a chore because a lot of the plants we grow are tall and robust making it challenging to break down the crop debris. With a lot of time, occultation tarps will break down the residue but still leave the bed a challenge to direct seed into. This is especially so if you're trying to kill a cover crop like Winter Rye in the late spring with tarps. We have resorted to using our tractor (which we always run the wheels in the same spots because of the permanent beds) and do a very light tilthering with our rototiller to the top 2 inches of the soil. This is what we mean by minimal tillage on our farm and this allows us to have a seed bed that is adequately prepped for direct seeding. By directly seeding sunflowers into the soil, we avoid the need for extensive plowing and tilling, preserving the soil's structure and health.
Direct Seeding for Sustainability
Direct seeding is our approach to our regenerative sunflower farming process. Instead of traditional transplanting, we carefully sow sunflower seeds directly into the soil. This approach offers several advantages:
- Preserve Soil Structure: Direct seeding minimizes soil disturbance, which is crucial for maintaining soil structure, preventing erosion, and preserving soil microbes. Our soil retains its natural fertility, promoting long-term sustainability.
- Energy Efficiency: Compared to transplanting, direct seeding consumes less energy and resources. With transplanting we would need to hand seed all of our weekly sunflower crops into 72- trays for a few weeks until they reach a transplantable size. This is an extra step that takes a lot of time to fill the +- 10 trays with soil and seed. As long as your soil is moist Mother Nature does a fine job of direct seeded germination.
*** Side Note. After direct seeding with our single row Earthway seeder, we make sure to cover our seeded rows with reemay agricultural fabric to make sure birds do not steal the seeds. It seems impossible but the birds can easily steal every last seed.
Sunflowers have been studied and known for their ability to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Their extensive root systems wiggle their way deep into the soil, enhancing carbon capture and boosting soil health. This natural carbon sink makes sunflowers a very interesting crop that's gaining popularity offsetting carbon emissions.
We maintain a strict no-chemical policy for our sunflower cultivation. We never use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, it's important that our sunflowers grow naturally and are safe for your home.
***This season with the really wet spring we had to resort to using a blend of different organic certified fungicides mainly to combat downy mildew which can be devastating to a crop of sunflowers. Try to catch this early if you can.
Wire Weeding: An Eco-Friendly Solution
One of the most important steps to the success of your sunflower is keeping it weed-free. Since we don't use plastics for our sunflowers we have adopted tools like our occultation tarps and also different wire weeders to nab the weeds that do come up. We take a proactive approach to weed management by employing wire weeding that minimally disturbs the soil. We complete two thorough wire weddings per crop at two-week intervals and this keeps the crop weed-free until the crop canopy can shade out all weeds that try to germinate after the last wire weeding 4 weeks after planting.
Farmed by Us: A Personal Commitment
When you choose our regenerative sunflowers, you're not just buying a bouquet; you're investing in sustainable, locally-grown beauty. Every sunflower that enters your home was farmed by us with love and dedication.
Transparency: We believe in transparency at every step of the process. We know our method is probably not perfect but we want to share with you our trials and tribulations.
By choosing ours, or growing your own regenerative sunflowers, you're not only adding natural beauty to your home but you’re also supporting sustainable agriculture.
We hope this post provides a little education and inspiration for you to grow your own sunflowers whether it's a small patch in your backyard or expanding your farm's production. It’s up to us to make the difference—one sunflower at a time.