Friday, May 31, 2013

Drying Sunflower Heads for Seeds

It is now time for me to try my hand at drying the sunflower heads for harvesting the seeds! My sunflower garden is nearly 3 months old; I started it from seeds on March 2, 2013. I was waiting for the right moment to cut that first sunflower head. I suppose I could have ceremoniously waited until June 2nd, but I couldn't wait! So, I am 2 days short of the 3 months.

Cutting the Sunflower Heads

You can tell when it is time to cut the sunflower heads as all of the flower petals will have fallen off. The back of the blossom head will be yellowing. And, something important to note. You can see that the back of the sunflower head has indented or pushed toward the front.

The Back of the Sunflower Head is Yellow and Indented
The Back of the Sunflower Head is Yellow and Indented
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
I got out a pair of my heavy duty inside scissors and headed out to my garden. Since one of my tallest Autumn Beauty sunflowers had been bent over for more than a week, I decided to make that the first head I cut. That was the first Autumn Beauty sunflower plant to exceed 6 ft. in height. At the time of the cutting, it was well over 7 ft. in height if you stretched it out.

Largest Sunflower Head in My Garden : Autumn Beauty
Largest Sunflower Head in My Garden : Autumn Beauty
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
It was easy to cut the thick stem with my scissors; I cut down to leave 9 inches of stem on the head. Before I cut any other sunflower heads, I came inside and put the cut sunflower head on my LS-30 postal scale.

The First Head Cut : Largest Sunflower Head : Autumn Beauty
The First Head Cut : Largest Sunflower Head : Autumn Beauty
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
I'm not sure what the average sunflower head is supposed to weigh, but this one came in at 8.2 ounces.  For some reason, I thought if felt heavier than that. The next largest sunflower head weighed in at 5.1 ounces. Most of the heads that I cut were comparable in size, weighing 4.5 to 5.1 ounces each.

A Bunch of Cut Sunflower Heads for Seed Harvesting
A Bunch of Cut Sunflower Heads for Seed Harvesting
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
As you can see in the photo above, all the sunflower petals have fallen off the heads. The back of the heads were yellowing and rather indented. The most stem that I left on the cut heads was 9 inches. The rest of the heads, I left from 3 to 6 inches of stem.

Pests Who Like to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Some gardeners may recommend that you leave the sunflower heads on the plants to dry; however, you run the risk of the birds or squirrels doing the seed harvesting for you! Everyday, In my back yard, I watch dozens of squirrels flying through the trees which rise up in the drainage area at the edge of my property. Sometimes, it is like a party in my yard as they zip back and forth from my yard to the neighbor's yard.

Those same squirrels went crazy last year when the Drake Elm went to seed in my front yard. I saw 6 squirrels at one time up in that tree, dropping those seed pods in my grass. A few months later, I had hundreds of little Drake Elm seedlings in my grass.

When I had a bird feeder in my back yard, I used to fill it with a mix that had a lot of sunflower seeds. Yep! The squirrels found the bird feeder and made short order of the sunflower seeds. So, I know those squirrels will harvest those sunflower seeds once they get wind of them!

It's not only the squirrels, but we have a plethora of birds thanks to the neighbor who puts out two large feeders. One evening, I was in my Florida Room talking on the phone with my neighbor. As I looked into the sunflower garden, I saw a male cardinal land on the stem of an Autumn Beauty sunflower plant! He flew off to the other neighbor's yard and landed on his fence. Next, into the garden flew the female cardinal. She landed on the decorative metal edging. Yes, I could well imagine that those cardinals would like to harvest some of those sunflower seeds.

Drying the Sunflower Heads 

I have read that you should dry the sunflower heads in perhaps a dark shed. Or, to keep out the pests from your garden, whilst drying your heads, you could put a paper bag on them. I have a lot of heads to dry, so using paper bags wouldn't be practical. And, I don't have a shed yet. I thought about putting the heads in my garage; but decided against it as I use my garage every day.

Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
The next logical place seemed to be my Florida Room. It is a dry and warm room that sometimes feels like a greenhouse or hot house. I have a large wicker storage chest that I purchased from Pier One Imports many years ago. Since it was not being used for anything, I am now using it for drying the sunflower heads.

Before I brought the various cut sunflower heads inside, I set them on the concrete patio out back to be sure I gave any bugs the chance to scurry away.

Inside the wicker chest, I placed one of the plastic liners from Lowe's on the bottom. Then, I put the 19 sunflower heads on top of the liner as demonstrated in the photo above.

Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
Once I had all the cut sunflower heads arranged inside the wicker chest, I shut the top of it. I didn't shut it completely, but placed 2 sets of 2 moose fabric aromatherapy coasters under the lid to let just a little bit of air inside the wicker chest.

Like that storage chest? I found the Wicker Lane Wicker Storage Deck Box at Amazon looks pretty similar to mine! I've had mine for years, and it still looks pretty much like new! Those types of chests can be used for storage or you can use them for a cocktail table in the living room. Maybe add a glass top to it? I've found that my wicker chest worked in the bedroom, living room, patio or Florida Room.

Thanks for stopping by today to be a part of my sunflower garden journey! It's been fun, you know? Check back in to see how the drying process goes!

Update: I have just written my next blog post in this series entitled, Harvesting Sunflower Seeds from the Heads. Can you guess how many sunflower seeds might be in one average sunflower head?


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Monday, May 27, 2013

Insects and Critters in my Sunflower Garden

It's an assortment of insects and critters in my sunflower garden, oh my! I wondered just who was eating my sunflower plants' leaves. One sunny day in Jacksonville, Florida, I was walking amidst the three rows of sunflower plants that I grew from seed. Happily photographing this and that, being sure to capture each delightful sunflower blossom. It really wasn't until after I downloaded my sunflower garden photos from my camera. I was reviewing each photo in Photoshop and was surprised I didn't see that insect earlier.

Little green grasshopper on my yellow sunflower blossom
The very first "insect" that I spotted on the sunflower blossom.
It's a little green grasshopper.
Grasshoppers!

Yes, there he is, the little green critter! I think the little green grasshopper was plotting out his day. He probably already got in a bit of breakfast by the time that I showed up!

green grasshopper on pretty yellow sunflower blossom
Not so little green grasshopper on pretty yellow sunflower blossom!
Then, a few days down the road ... why, hello! I think it is one of the original grasshopper's buddies. However, this second grasshopper surely looks a lot like the first one. Look closely at that leaf!

Little green grasshopper on sunflower leaf
Hey there little buddy ... whatcha doing on my sunflower leaf?
It's another little green grasshopper. Could it be the same one?
Well, it is curious that the grasshopper doesn't look like it has grown much. That's why I figured it was another one. Take a look at that interesting hole in the leaf to the right of the little insect. Yumm Yumm!

A healthy green grasshopper sitting on a warm sunflower blossom
A healthy green grasshopper sitting on a warm sunflower blossom
Fast Forward: Here is another NOT so little green grasshopper on a sunflower blossom. That grasshopper definitely has a bigger body than the previous grasshoppers.

Green grasshopper hopped on my hand
Hey! Green grasshopper hopped on my hand!
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
An update: So, we had a really heavy duty thunderstorm and I was out cutting off some of the ripe sunflower heads. The sunflower plants were overloaded with weight and a couple of them broke and landed on the ground. As I was using my scissors to trim some sunflower heads and plants, I feel something on my hand. Why, it's that green grasshopper who hung on for the longest time. See?

Oh! And, it was one Saturday morning that I was squeezing between the 3 rows of sunflower plants to do a little weeding. When I came inside a while later, I was in the kitchen and there on the tile floor? A little green grasshopper! I seriously do not know where that grasshopper was spending his time until he came inside. Poor little grasshopper; he is no more!!

Moles!

You know, that little green insect wasn't the first pest that I actually spotted in my garden. I have been battling moles which have traversed nearly every part of my yard -- back, front and side! I believe it was because of the mole that some of my organic sunflower seeds never sprouted seedlings. Thus far, the moles have been camera-shy and rather elusive. When I photograph one of them, you'll be the first to know!

Black Leaf Bugs!
 
For a few days, I had been seeing a flying insect that was new to me.

Two black leaf bugs on a sunflower leaf
Now those critters are getting serious!
Two black leaf bugs having a conference or something.
What a surprise to find two of them one morning on a sunflower leaf. That black insect rather looks like a beetle. And, it looks like they are conferring or perhaps telling each other, "I was here first; beat it!"

Black leaf bug on a sunflower leaf
Another black leaf bug on my sunflower leaf.
Thus far, I have seen more black leaf bugs than any other insect eating my sunflower leaves! They seem to be most noticeable in the early mornings. When I have gotten them off the leaves, they don't fly off immediately. I've actually stepped on a few and worked them into my red mulch as conditioner! They actually squish like a juicy beetle.

Two black leaf bugs on a sunflower plant stem
Two black leaf bugs on a sunflower plant stem
It is most curious how so many times I spot the black leaf bugs in pairs. I wonder if that would be the female and male as a couple? Or, could it be the mom or the dad leaf bug mentoring their kids?

A determined black leaf bug on the sunflower plant
A determined black leaf bug on the sunflower plant
Some of the black leaf bugs have looked like grasshoppers. I don't believe I've actually seen any of those type of bugs which have leaf-shaped little feet.

Solitary black leaf bug on cut sunflower plant stem
After the thunderstorm had passed, I was cutting some of the broken sunflower plants. I noticed, as I brought the cuttings to the patio, that this black leaf bug just would not let go! I mean I scooted it off the cut sunflower plant and he came scurrying back to get back on the stem. Don't tell anyone ... I stepped on him. Squish! On less little black leaf bug, oh my.

Three black leaf bugs on a sunflower plant stem
Three black leaf bugs on a sunflower plant stem
The most black leaf bugs I have yet encountered on one sunflower plant is three. Normally, I can see these pesty insects in pairs. However, one morning I was concerned when I saw the three. They seem to be hanging out on my tallest Autumn Beauty sunflower plant which has a thick stem and juicy leaves. It is from the organic sunflower seeds. I've noticed those plants, from the organic seeds, took longer to "take off," but once they started to grow, the stems were thicker and the leaves were more pronounced.

Butterflies!
 
I have seen a few butterflies flitting around the sunflower garden, but was not quick enough to actually photograph any. Well, until the other day.

Monarch butterfly on Autumn Beauty Sunflower blossom
Monarch butterfly on Autumn Beauty Sunflower blossom
I realize my photo is a bit out of focus; however, I do believe you can make out that Monarch butterfly sitting on the Autumn Beauty sunflower blossom.

Monarch butterfly on Autumn Beauty Sunflower blossom
Monarch butterfly on Autumn Beauty Sunflower blossom
Thankfully, the Monarch butterfly has been visiting my sunflower garden quite a bit. I was able to capture a better photo to share. Look at the pretty mosaic colors in that butterfly's wings! Inspiring, like Mother Nature's stained glass!

Dragonflies!

Imagine my delight the morning of May 27, 2012. I came out to feed the orange male cat that visits; I didn't see the cat, but I did see a green dragonfly!

A green dragonfly resting on a yellow sunflower blossom
A green dragonfly resting on a yellow sunflower blossom.
I am enamored with dragonflies and love to watch them when they are migrating or mating. I captured quite a few pictures of this dragonfly and then gently nudged it. It took a short flight to a nearby leaf. Oh, yes, I nudged it again. Next it flew to the ground and I offered my finger.

Green dragonfly on my finger
That's the green dragonfly that I found on my sunflower blossom!
How cool, the dragonfly sat on my finger and allowed me to take its picture. I've photographed many a dragonfly in my day, but never got one to sit on my finger! How about that. Now, this is one critter that can come and visit anytime in my sunflower garden! I won't shoo them away.

A Common Fly 

Do we usually see the common house fly that much? Normally, I am seeing more of the teeny weeny flies or gnats. Is seems rather unusual that you would find a fly on a sunflower blossom, but I spied a fly. Take a look.

a fly on a autumn beauty sunflower blossom
A fly spotted on a pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower blossom
See that fly up in the upper right, out there on the sunflower petal? He's a chubby little insect.

Worms in Sunflower Blossoms 

Worms in the Pretty Yellow Sunflower Blossom
Worms in the Pretty Yellow Sunflower Blossom
June 25, 2013 - I've just added the photo above which shows two little worms crawling into the center of the sunflower. It seems that in the past week or so, that I have been seeing a lot of these little worms in the center of my blossoms! On the evening of June 24th, I was harvesting some seeds from a variety of sunflower heads. I picked up the last head and there on the tray was a pretty good sized worm that looked like a cutworm. Major creep-out moment I had; sorry, no photo opportunity to share that! But, I am on the lookout for these wormy critters!

A Ladybug and a Bee!

I had to come back to this post and add this picture. This is one of those sunflower pictures that I didn't realize I had this photo until I downloaded it and pulled it up in Photoshop! Look closely and you will see those two little critters!

A ladybug on a sunflower petal along with a bee
A ladybug on a sunflower petal along with a bee!
There are actually two insects in this photo. No, I did not add them in! It was pretty amazing that looking at the photo in Photoshop, I first noticed the little ladybug in the upper right hand corner. Then, my eyes drifted downward to see the bee. How about that?

Just a Bee Please!

A bee on a pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower petal
A bee on a pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower petal
We might have heard of the honey bees dying off. Thankfully, I have had plenty of bees pollinating my sunflower blossoms. Take a look at the top of the sunflower blossom, just left of center. Ah, it's a little bee I see.

2 bees on pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower blossoms
2 + 2 bees on 2 pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower blossoms
Two sets of honey bees were captured on these two pretty Autumn Beauty sunflower blossoms. On the right blossom, you can see the two bees which appear connected. On the sunflower blossom to the left, there is a bee at the top of center and then one further down below.

Hummingbirds!

Probably the most inspiring vision I have had in my sunflower garden occurred twice now! Both times, it was early in the morning when I was feeding the cat. The first time, I was actually standing in the garden and heard a buzzing off the left side of my head. Not fast enough with my camera.

The second time, I had stepped out of the garden and was photographing it from a little distance away. It was just after 6:45am. The cat alerted me to the hummingbird. I snapped a few pictures and then got out my loupe to find the hummingbird in those photos!

A Hummingbird in my sunflower garden
A Hummingbird in my sunflower garden - Look closely!
You'll have to look really closely to find that hummingbird -- he was buzzing so fast and flitting about that it's hard to see him. If you follow the yellow arrow up, you can see a grayish spot just to the left of that Autumn Beauty sunflower blossom. I promise next time to get a better picture. So, I did! I found that little hummingbird returned at another time of day. I was able to capture a series of photos of that little hummingbird.

Cardinal and a Mockingbird

I haven't yet captured a photo of that male red cardinal, but I did catch his mate!

Female Cardinal sitting on the Sunflower Garden Edging
Female Cardinal sitting on the Sunflower Garden Edging
What's interesting about the male and female cardinal birds is how they approach the sunflowers in my garden. The male is quite bold in that he has already landed on one of the sunflower plant stems. He didn't stay long, but he keeps zipping around the garden. I can hear his cheeping sounds and know that he is there.

Now, the female has been a bit more timid. She lands on the edging, but doesn't really come into the garden. See her there in the lower part of the photo, just left of center.

A mockingbird on the roof near my sunflower garden
A mockingbird on the roof near my sunflower garden
I truly enjoy watching the mockingbirds which frequent my front and back yards. On one occasion, one of them dive-bombed me when I was working on pruning a front bush. I snapped this picture one morning as I watched that mockingbird flitting around the sunflower garden.

Brown Anole Lizard

Brown anole lizard on a sunflower leaf
Brown anole lizard on a sunflower leaf
We have a considerable amount of brown lizards, anoles, around the yard. On several occasions, I have chased these lizards out of the house ... they are quite quick and a devil to catch. I am happy to see the brown lizards in my sunflower garden. At any time of day, when I step outside, I see them running out of the garden. They sure do have their selection of insects to snack on.

On morning, I watched one of the anoles that was sitting on a sunflower stem. Right above him was one of those black leaf bugs. The lizard snapped at the bug, but unfortunately, it flew off.

Remember the cat?

There's been an orange male tabby cat that has hung around since I first moved in. Just this morning, as I was riding my bicycle to my workout session, a neighbor stopped me. We were talking about plants in pots and how it looked like some cat peed on her one plant. Next thing, we are talking about the orange and black male cats which frequent our neighborhood.

Orange male tabby cat in the sunflower garden
There's my little orange buddy!
Orange male tabby cat in the sunflower garden
Where have you been? There you are!
That neighbor said this is a feral cat. Well, it sure has taken to me. As I have cared for ferals, strays and an assortment of domestic cats in Jacksonville, Florida, this guy feels safe around me. And, I am appreciating that he sits guard in my sunflower garden to distract any moles from tunneling through.

There you have it! I have spotlighted some interesting insects and critters found in my sunflower garden. I have yet to try any real pest control other than Spectrum HG-53944-5 "Spectracide" Triazicide Once and Done Insect Killer. I've been using the Spectracide granules for some time to treat my front yard; trying to discourage the moles from going after insects in the ground.

I did an initial treatment of Spectracide on the 9-1/2 x 15-1/2 foot garden area before I added the red mulch and ultimately the sunflower seedlings and sunflower seeds. Over the past couple of months, I have sprinkled Spectracide around the outside perimeter of the garden.

If the insects and critters in my sunflower garden continue to persist, I may opt for additional pest control. Stay tuned and I will let you know what I use! Thanks for stopping by today; nice to see you! Bzz Bzz.

Hey there! Nearly 3 months out and it is time for Drying Sunflower Heads for Harvesting the Seeds.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Colorful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Pictures

Some of the most incredibly colorful sunflower blossoms are of the variety Autumn Beauty. When I originally thought about planting sunflowers seeds for my flower garden, I was familiar with the typical yellow sunflower blossoms. I never fully realized just how beautiful and colorful the Autumn Beauty variety is.

I started my sunflower garden on March 2, 2013. Today, I am experiencing so many colorful sunflower blossoms blooming. The Autumn Beauty sunflower will reportedly grow to 7 ft. and possibly more. At the moment, my tallest plant, shown directly below, had reached 75 inches on Monday, May 20, 2013.

Update: May 25, 2012 Jacksonville, Florida : The tallest Autumn Beauty sunflower plant has now hit 80 inches! It is still standing upright, whilst the other tall plant has now begun to bend over from the weight of the blossom!

Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Photos taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady

Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower BlossomBeautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower BlossomBeautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower BlossomBeautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower BlossomBeautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossoms
Photos taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady

Each of the colorful sunflower blossoms are like works of art of vivid oranges, yellows, and browns. Compare these blossoms to the other, more typical yellow sunflower blossoms pictures that I've shared. Don't these beautiful flowers make you want to grown your own sunflower flower garden?

If you are considering planting sunflower seeds, be sure to check out Burpee Sunflower Seeds on Amazon. What a great testament to the power of Burpee sunflower seeds! The proof is in the blossom(s).

Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Beautiful Autumn Beauty Sunflower Blossom
Photos taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
I hope you've enjoyed my Autumn Beauty Sunflower Pictures and I hope that you are convinced to try growing your own sunflowers! Living in Jacksonville, Florida, we are fortunate to have the perfect weather for such a flower garden. Continuing on the journey, check out Insects and Critters in my Sunflower Garden.


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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mexican Petunia Garden : Purple Showers 2013

I first became interested in Mexican Petunias aka Purple Showers back in the Summer of 2011. That's when I was introduced to this fabulous purple perennial when I saw a little inspiration across the street, decorating their mailbox. See that inspirational flower photo at the end of this blog post! And, you can also see that bit of inspiration, although not so inspirational today, in my second photo below. Look closely.

It has the scientific name of Ruellia brittoniana and is known as Britton's wild petunia. I personally like the additional name of Mexican Bluebell although it should be Purplebell, you know?

To refresh your memory on my front garden, on October 8, 2012, I wrote a detailed blog post showing you how to plant a Mexican Petunia Flower Garden like mine. That particular front garden was inspired by my first Mexican Petunia Flower Garden, in my side yard.

Mexican Petunia Garden : Front Yard 2013
Mexican Petunia Garden : Front Yard 2013
Photo taken on May 19, 2013 by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
Mexican Petunia Garden : Front Yard 2013 
Mexican Petunia Garden : Another View 2013
Photo taken on May 19, 2013 by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
Comparing these photos to the previous 2012 photos, you can see considerable growth on the Mexican Petunias. I wasn't sure that these plants were going to make it through the last frost we had. Up to that point, they had weathered our cool weather fairly well. However, we got hit with an unexpected frost after some very warm weather.

After the last frost, I pruned down the Mexican Petunia plants to a tiny round mass. It didn't look good! The leaves had virtually all fallen off and the rest of the plants were a deep maroon-like color. I made sure I gave them water even though they are typically drought-resistant plants.

Five Pretty Mexican Petunia Blossoms in a Row
A Closeup of Five Pretty Mexican Petunia Blossoms in a Row
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
I tried some special fertilizer on these plants which might have made the difference in how well they are doing today. In the Burpee Eco-friendly Seed Starting 25 Pellet Greenhouse Kit that I was using to grow Sunflower seedlings, there was a 1 oz. package of Espoma organic fertilizer. I opted to sprinkle that fertilizer on the Mexican Petunias.

Take a look at this photo comparison that I've prepared of the garden in 2012 vs the garden today.

Mexican Petunia Garden : Front Yard 2012 vs 2013
Mexican Petunia Garden - October 2012 vs May 2013
Photo comparison prepared on May 19, 2013 by JaguarJulie Ann Brady
Once the frost-damaged plants were trimmed back, they pretty much were the size of those plants in October 2012 as shown in the left photo. With a sprinkling of the 1 oz. package of Espoma Plant-Tone Organic Plant Food, the Mexican Petunias today are easily three times the size! And, we are not even into Summer. It was my intention to encourage the petunias to fill the bricked-in area. With a little more growth, I believe they'll be there.

If you look closely at the garden photos, you might be able to tell that there is a different plant in the middle of that flower garden. It's the Peter Pan Agapanthus which I transplanted from my back yard. More on that a little later. Also, you can see a blue ceramic flower pot in the corner of the garden. Those are pale pink pentas.

I'll be giving you an update on the other Mexican Petunia garden that is in my side yard! Thanks for taking the time to enjoy the purple showers! May your days be sunny and may showers come your way only when needed.


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