Sunflowers Follow the Sun

Because I lived in Southeast Alaska for almost twenty years, where it rained nearly 200 inches a year, my growing was limited to shade gardens nestled in terraced beds back of our cabin that faced the sea.

Our Wizard's Cottage in Southeast Alaska
Our Wizard’s Cottage in Southeast Alaska

 

Fern-like astilbe and feathery plumes in cool colors, purple moisture loving primroses, and mammoth four-foot tall and four foot-foot wide hosta sporting a flagpole of soft white blossoms — signaled late summer in Alaska.

 

But, childhood favorites like hollyhock and sunflower I could never grow, because it was too wet.

 

It has been three years since I left Alaska. We’ve bought a farm, refurbished an old barn, built a house, and had one unsuccessful venture growing tomatoes. You may recall the bins I flooded last year by leaving the water on overnight; well, that is not what killed the tomatoes. We are not certain, but we think they were affected by herbicide drift or herbicide residue in the soil we used, because the tomatoes grew deformed, then shriveled, and they never set fruit.

 

It was too disappointing to write about.

 

This year I am trying again. I brought in good soil from Dirt Huggers a local organic soil and compost company, and I’m slowly experimenting (again) with growing tomatoes and flowers from seed.

 

In an effort to do something for the bees and bumblebees, I also planted a garden to feed the bees. The sunflowers in this bee-feed garden are now 8 inches tall, and today I realized that sunflowers follow the sun. They face the sun when it rises in the east, and this is when I see them, because I water early in the morning. Because they were leaning so heavily toward the sun in the morning I feared they would grow bending toward the creek (east), and when they got tall, they would topple.

June 2014 - Mule Springs Garden. It looks a little tidier this year, since we put down bark chips, and we added three more apple bins to hold soil. Eleven tomato plants -- both plum and round slicers. The bins are an experiment-- does the soil get too hot? And what about those black plastic liners? Do those liners leach anything into the soil?  We don't know.
June 2014 – Mule Springs Garden. It looks a little tidier this year, since we put down bark chips, and we added three more apple bins to hold soil. Eleven tomato plants — both plum and round slicers. The bins are an experiment– does the soil get too hot? And what about those black plastic liners? Do those liners leach anything into the soil? We don’t know.

 

Yet, tonight, I noticed, when the final rays of sun struck from the barn side, the young sunflowers were turned in the opposite direction away from the creek (west) and toward the setting sun. When I saw this, I realized that sunflowers must follow the sun.

 

What a wonderful thing. A young sunflower’s green face smiles as its body bows to greet the morning sun and the sunflower keeps on smiling and turning and bending to catch the last bit of sun rays as yellow light dims to orange, then red, and then dips behind the horizon.

Bee Garden-- Bee Feed Mix from Territorial Seed-- "twenty types of flowers specially selected for their nectar and pollen-producing ability." I added sunflowers; it's 2:00 p.m., and they are already beginning to slant away from the creek and toward the barn where the sun will eventually set hours from now.
Bee Garden– Bee Feed Mix from Territorial Seed– “twenty types of flowers specially selected for their nectar and pollen-producing ability.” I added sunflowers; it’s 2:00 p.m., and they are already beginning to slant away from the creek and toward the barn where the sun will eventually set hours from now.

8 thoughts on “Sunflowers Follow the Sun

  1. I too love sunflowers but they don’t grow well in Scotland – perhaps not so much because it’s too wet but because we don’t have enough sunshine. Moreover, though you can buy sunflowers in pots, if you put them outside they will be demolished in their entirety within 24 hours by snails and slugs. I’ve never seen plants vanish so fast.

    I was surprised you didn’t know sunflowers follow the sun, as I feel I have ‘always’ known that – but I realise this is perhaps because their name in languages such as French (tournesol) and Italian (girasole) means ‘turns with the sun’. It is an astonishing sight to see fields of commercially grown sunflowers in Mediterranean countries turning over the course of the day, thousands of heads tilting first in one direction and then in the other. It’s a popular setting for wedding photographs!

    1. I too love sunflowers but they don’t grow well in Scotland – perhaps not so much because it’s too wet but because we don’t have enough sunshine. Moreover, though you can buy sunflowers in pots, if you put them outside they will be demolished in their entirety within 24 hours by snails and slugs. I’ve never seen plants vanish so fast.

      I was surprised you didn’t know sunflowers follow the sun, as I feel I have ‘always’ known that – but I realise this is perhaps because their name in languages such as French (tournesol) and Italian (girasole) means ‘turns with the sun’. It is an astonishing sight to see fields of commercially grown sunflowers in Mediterranean countries turning over the course of the day, thousands of heads tilting first in one direction and then in the other. It’s a popular setting for wedding photographs!
      Hi Joanna– I know. I realized people might find it silly that i did not know sunflowers follow the sun, but I have never grown sunflowers before. I’ve only admired them in passing in West Virginia and Virginia gardens (where I grew up). We didn’t have them in “our” garden growing up. As an adult I always wanted to have then grow near me, and this is my first chance. So, when I realized a few days ago how they turn and bend toward the sun, I was very touched and overjoyed to actually “see” them in their full wonder!

  2. Ohh, I remember how thrilled I was when I first noticed this very same thing too, Sher! I totally love your description – “A young sunflower’s green face smiles as its body bows to greet the morning sun and the sunflower keeps on smiling and turning and bending to catch the last bit of sun rays as yellow light dims to orange, then red, and then dips behind the horizon.” – Yes! Soo poetic.

    Your new garden looks lovely. I have also wondered the same thing about using wooden containers lined with black plastic sheeting… is it a good idea? Will it keep the soil too warm? Will it dehydrate more quickly? Will it tend to become waterlogged because of the plastic? What if I am trying to grow veggies and herbs – will they absorb toxins from the plastic, or from the chemically treated wood?

    Good luck – do keep us posted.

    1. Your new garden looks lovely. I have also wondered the same thing about using wooden containers lined with black plastic sheeting… is it a good idea? Will it keep the soil too warm? Will it dehydrate more quickly? Will it tend to become waterlogged because of the plastic? What if I am trying to grow veggies and herbs – will they absorb toxins from the plastic, or from the chemically treated wood?

      Good luck – do keep us posted.
      Reggie:
      Thank you – these are all things I am pondering. A friend uses 36 bins for her huge garden, but she does not use the plastic. And, I am noticing the plants in the bins–the same bee-feed mix is growing more slowly than the plants in the ground– soil same too. So, maybe it is too hot in the bins. We will see — yes, please stay tuned.

  3. Hope you have good luck with your tomatoes, here is a great mix to repel critters and feed the plants:

    Tomato/Vegetable Spray

    Mix in a 2 gal. sprayer or mix and store in container to be transferred to a hand sprayer.

    2 gal water
    1 Tbs Baking Soda
    1 Tbs Dial, Anti-Bacterial soap
    1 ½ Tbs Miracle Grow for Tomatoes
    1 to 1 ½ Tbs Epsom Salt
    11/2 tsp Soy oil
    1 ½ tsp Garlic oil
    2 Tbs Isopropyl Alcohol
    1 Tbs Tabasco
    1 Tbs Food Grade, DE is Diatomaceous Earth
    Here is my source for DE, the swimming pool type will not work.
    http://www.gardenharvestsupply.com/productcart/pc/Food-Grade-Diatomaceous-Earth-c11.htm

    Mix all and shake well before applying

    Note: You will have to reapply after a rain

    This is a good spray for all kinds of bugs and also will repel deer, squirrel and rabbits.

    This is not 100% organic but close to it.

    If you are experiencing stem rot it is caused by too much water and not enough calcium, save your egg shells, toast them in the oven then crush them fine, mix well with coffee grounds and add around the base of the tomato plant drip line.

    If you dust the ground around the base of the tomato plant with DE, you will take care of cut worm problems. I used to use a heavy cotton string, soaked in coal-oil, can’t find it coal-oil any more??? LOL

    Good Luck!

    When I die don’t bury me in any old cemetery
    just plant me in the garden
    and there I’ll be
    pushin up home grown tomatoes

    Home grown tomatoes, Home grown tomatoes
    there’s only two things that money can’t buy
    that’s True Love and Home Grown Tomatoes!

    1. Lovely peek into your home but oh Sher, that cottage in Alaska resonates with my soul.

      Did I say Southeast Alaska is “for” artists? The climate, the moods, the wildness feeds the artistic soul. I’m with you Elisabeth.

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