Friday, April 17, 2015

A Sunflower Garden Planting Guide

A bouquet from last summer
Flowers include Autumn Beauty, Sungold, Stella Gold,
Greenburst, and Moulin Rouge
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I grow sunflowers every summer. I heard from Melissa, a childhood friend of mine from Dover who follows my blog. She asked for a list of my favorite varieties of sunflowers. I think there may be more of you out there who might like to plant sunflowers this summer so I put this Sunflower Growing Guide together for all of my readers. Please share this post with your fellow gardening friends! FYI - I grow in western Massachusetts. All photos by me taken either at our Farmhouse Garden or at our Sunflower Field (from a few years ago). 

First off - there are two companies I buy seeds from. My longtime supplier has been Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. They ship amazingly quickly from Maine. No minimums and they have some mixed variety packs for those of you with small gardens. 

My second supplier (a recent find) is SunflowerSelections  in California. I heard about them through this NY Times article. I have purchased from them since 2012 and have nothing but good things to say about the company, service and the varieties they offer. SunflowerSelections is actually a subsidiary of NuFlowers, a breeder of sunflower varieties. The only downfall is their packs are 100 seeds and there is a $15.00 minimum.  Their website is set up to sort by colors, branching, single stem, and more. 

So here are some of my thoughts about growing sunflowers. This is what I have learned from many years of growing them. 

1.You need sun! Shade doesn't work for them and long days of sun will yield much better flowers.
2. Although you can plant sunflowers early in the season, I wait until the middle to end of June to plant. This will give me flowers through frost. I have planted as late as the beginning of August and still gotten flowers - they are smaller because of the shortening days at that time of year. 
3. There are two kinds of sunflowers - Branching (many flowers per plant) and Single Stem (one flower per plant). I prefer the branching sunflowers to the single varieties (ProCut, Sunbright, and Sunrich strains). You get more sunflower blossoms per seed and they have a wild and unruly appearance which really appeals to me. 
4. Florists and growers usually plant the single varieties because they are reliable, are sturdy, and ship well. For the home gardener (me) they are a bit of a disappointment because they take up room and I only get one flower per stem. That said - they are very quick to bloom so I usually plant some so I get flowers quickly. 
5. Once my plants are about 8 inches tall, I mulch the heck out of them to hold the water in the soil and keep the weeds down. Once they get going, they grow like crazy and shade out most of the weeds. 
6. I don't fertilize my sunflowers. I have basic garden soil but the mulch gets tilled in. I do add manure from my chickens and the sheep though every other year or so. 
7. Don't crowd the sunflowers. If you do, they will be stunted and not thrive. I plant about 2 to 3 seeds every 12" or so. That gives me insurance in case the birds or mice eat the seeds. 
8. Sunflowers tend to not transplant well. Plant them where you want them and be patient. They will grow as long as they have sun.  
9. There are dwarf varieties of sunflowers available but I don't grow them. I did once and they just didn't seem right. I am fortunate to have lots of sun and space but if you are tight on space, check out these selections via SunflowerSelections. 
10. Most of the branching sunflowers have very large top flowers. If you pinch (or harvest) the top flower, the lower branches will grow longer stems and the flowers will be bigger.

Here are the Sunflower varieties I highly recommend with links to each supplier who stocks the seeds. I have described why I enjoy each of the varieties. Don't wait to order your seeds because they often run out of popular varieties. The variety is BELOW each photo. 

Both photos - Autumn Beauty
Autumn Beauty - Branching. This sunflower is long season and needs a while to bloom. It gets very tall. Order seeds early as they are often sold out. This is Mark's favorite sunflower. The plants get huge and send out tons and tons of flowers. There is a wide range of colors - light yellow, light yellow with pink tinged centers, dark brown, rust, red, maroon, bronze, and classic sunflower yellow. If we had to choose one sunflower to grow, this would probably be it because you get such a variety of colors. Has pollen for those averse to it. 

Moulin Rouge Sunflower
Moulin Rouge - Branching. This is a gorgeous wine colored sunflower that looks lovely in bouquets. It is one of the earlier sunflowers to bloom. When we grew sunflowers in our field on the main road, this was a favorite of many of our customers. It doesn't ship well so that is why you probably have never seen one in a florist's bouquet. (FYI - SunflowerSelections has a new red branching variety called Black Beauty that I am trying this year to compare to Moulin Rouge.)
Joker Sunflower

Joker - Branching. I love this multi-colored sunflower. It is one of the first to bloom. The center is edged with a fringe of teeny petals. The outer petals are long. Once in a while, there will be a plant that has different looking blooms on each branch. It lasts a long time in a vase and is quite sturdy. Not too tall but definitely not short. 


Orange Ruffles Sunflower

Orange Ruffles - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and it rocked! Similar to The Joker and Greenburst, it has a brown center with a fringe of mini yellow petals. Seriously gorgeous. 


Greenburst Sunflower - Top Flower

Small Greenburst Bloom from one of the bottom branches

Greenburst - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and I am in love! Reminiscent of Sungold, it has a tight chartreuse center surrounded by hundreds of tiny petals. The outer edge of the flower has slim long petals. The top bloom is big (8") if you let it grow. If you cut it off early, the smaller lower branches will produce bigger pretty (although smaller) blooms. Long vase life. 


Sunbright Sunflower

Sunbright - A single stem variety that is the classic sunflower. Quick to bloom. I always plant these so I have big blooms quickly. This variety is often grown commercially as is the Pro-Cut varieties which I am not highlighting here in this Planting Guide. 


American Giant Sunflower

American Giant - This is the classic GIANT sunflower. One giant head per stem. These plants are like small trees by the end of the season. It is best to give them lots and lots of room to grow. They will shade out other plants so if you have a spot, away from your regular garden that has good sun - plant a few there for fun. You will have a giant seed head to feed to the birds. You could also plant a "sunflower house" for your kids and grandkids. 

Sungold Sunflower

Sungold - Branching. You need to have a long growing season for this gorgeous, puffy sunflower. They are always the last to bloom in my garden and I usually plant them first! The top flower will be the largest. Once you cut the top flower (usually 10" across) with its short stem, the lower flowers will grow with longer stems. A few years, the frost got mine before they bloomed, so plant them first! 

Holiday Sunflower
Holiday Sunflower backed by Autumn Beauty

Holiday - I love this sunflower for its vigorous nature. You will get so many blooms off each plant. The blooms are not very big - about 5" or so. It does drop a lot of pollen (for those of you who are clean freaks). The blooms develop in the vase nicely. 


Golden Cheer Sunflower
Golden Cheer - Branching. This variety was new to me last year. It is similar to Greenburst with a larger green center. It has a frilly textured edge to the center. Gorgeous. I plan on growing it again this year. 

Stella Gold Sunflower
Stella Gold - Single. This is a quick growing sunflower with extremely long petals. I grew it for many years and then couldn't find the source of seeds until I discovered SunflowerSelections. Funny thing is years ago when I grew it, the centers were rather mis-shapen - almost oval in shape. I loved that. The seeds from SS are a bit more perfect. I miss the wonkiness but love the very long spider like petals. 

Above is a mixed bouquet from last summer. Flowers included are: Autumn Beauty, Moulin Rouge, Greenburst. I like mixing in some of the over mature "done" sunflowers for interest. 

I hope you will try to grow some sunflowers this summer in your garden or along the edge of your yard. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waiting Patiently for the Grass to Grow

It is the middle of April. The snow is gone. Mud season was not so bad this year. Considering all the snow we got, it was surprising how fast it all went away. The light is so much stronger now and the sun higher in the sky every day. The grass has really not started to grow. The sheep are desperate to eat their greens. I think once one little blade pops up, they are there to harvest it. It won't be long until the grass is growing like crazy - probably mid May. The Farmer will then be mad to harvest it for hay. I better get some work out of him before he disappears with his tractor until October! 

There is very little shade for the sheep because the trees have not leafed out yet. It will be a few weeks for that. They find little bits of shade along the densely wooded sections of the pasture and along fence lines where the shadows are heavier. It hasn't been too hot yet and I am thankful for that. Sometimes in New England we go from freezing cold to the uncomfortable days of 80 degrees and more. Right now we are having a nice stretch of spring weather - warm during the day (70 or so) and almost freezing in the evenings. We love to have a fire in the woodstove in the evenings and this weather is affording that. 

The Farmer's Market Season starts on Saturday. It is a long stretch outdoors until Thanksgiving. Must get the product ready to go, check the tent, clean the freezers and the sheds in case anyone dares to come here to buy meat. Have the markets started in your part of the world yet? 

Today I am sharing some photos from around the farm. Enjoy your Thursday everyone! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sunflower Crewel Embroidery - Preview 2

This is the second in a series of sunflower inspiration for a crewel work embroidery piece. I began this piece last year, during the summer Farmers Market in Northampton. See the first post here

The second sunflower I stitched was inspired by the Sungold and Greenburst varieties. I have been growing Sungolds for years. They are long season flowers - taking 90 to 110 days to mature. The stalks are covered with blooms. The Greenburst Sunflower was new to me last year and I am definitely going to plant them again. They are similar to Sungold but are quick to bloom. On both of these varieties, there will be a huge top flower and smaller branching flowers below. Some people call these very fluffy sunflowers Van Gogh Sunflowers as Vincent loved to paint them and helped to make sunflowers the iconic flowers they have become today. 

Sungold Sunflower
Greenburst Sunflower
This sunflower was really fun to stitch. I blended different colors of yellow and gold to give a natural shaded look to the flower. I used turkeywork stitch for the fluffy outer ring. It is a looped stitch which I then cut to mimic the fluffy sunflowers.

Isn't the sculptural quality of the turkeywork beautiful?

For the petals, I chose Needleweaving to approximate the long thin petals. I love this stitch because it is so sculptural and again - a fun stitch to do. 

For the center, I blended two colors of green to resemble the center of the Greenburst sunflower and worked French knots to resemble the small bits of this pretty sunflower. 

This flower was so much fun to make. I used the Crewel Wool Thread that is available on my website here. The background fabric is pure linen which is also available on my website in 10 beautiful colors. All Crewel Embroidery is fun - I must admit. Although not all my work is as representative of nature, this project was. As I stitched each week, I couldn't believe the number of passerby's who stopped to chat - telling me about someone in their lives who used to stitch and embroider. Stitching in public is a good thing to do because it causes people to stop, chat, and remember. And maybe I can cause the person to pick up a needle and thread too. 

I hope your week goes great. Have you heard about this study? It connects the crafts and art to good health later in life. Cool.

I teach Crewel Embroidery on-line on Craftsy - link for 50% off on my sidebar. I am also offering an advanced Crewel Embroidery Class here at the farm in August. Info here.) 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Family, A Cookbook, Tears + A Project for You to Do

How's your week going? Mine is zipping by. It is still very cold and there is barely a touch of green. The ground is covered with ice and it looks white. The yearlings are continuing to lamb and we have about 40 lambs in the pasture in front of our Farmhouse.

How do you like the new blog header? It is a photo by Rikki Snyder taken during the shoot for my new book Crafting a Colorful Home. I wrote about the Seller's Cabinet which I painted bright orange on this post. I love this photo - it includes a photo of my Grandmother Frieda and the Family Cookbook we wrote together in the early 1980's. I was the editor and she was the author. Guess this book thing goes way back with me - self-publishing before most people did it. 

Over the Easter weekend, we were lucky to see some of my extended family. Only 4 of Julia's cousins made the day. They are growing up and scattering far and wide and finding their way. Ohhhh, I wish them all the luck in the world. I hope they know how much I love them all. I can't wait to see what they do with themselves. 

My niece Olivia is graduating university this year. Olivia has been majoring in Art and she had to build a website for her portfolio. You can see it here. Julia, my Mom, and I are planning a visit to Philadelphia in a few weeks to visit her over spring break.

A few weeks ago, Olivia asked me about her Great Grandmother Frieda Roessler Nicholas who I wrote the Family Cookbook with. She was beginning work on a big project and had some thoughts and questions for me. I told her I had an audio tape of Gram and that she might like to listen to it. I had to find it - that took a few hours! And then I had to figure out how to digitally tape it (I used Garageband but don't ask me how I got it to work!). I didn't know what Olivia would do with the tape or how she would use it in her project. When my sister Laurie sent me the link to Livvie's website, I found this animated video. 

Olivia used a photo of Gram as a young girl from the cookbook (it is low quality - it was xeroxed!). She did stop motion embroidery and added other little bits of embroidery and drawing. She added audio of Gram beating her Christmas Stollen. At the end, there is audio of me and Gram talking. Fantastic job Olivia. Do you notice the embroidered flames? 

As I was digitally taping the audio of me and Gram talking from the squeaky tape on an old tape recorder, it brought me back to the day I was with Gram. I wanted to have an oral history of her life. We started out the day with her making her Christmas Stollen so that I would have a clue of how to make it. Then, while the dough was rising, I asked her questions about her life. 

I remember this day as if it were yesterday (it was 35 years ago). We sat on her sunporch at her house at 13 Conger Street on her Lloyd loom wicker furniture which she had paid me to recover the 13 cushions as a way to earn some money. Gram recounted her life in Germany, coming to America when she was ten years old, her courtship with her husband Archie (who I never knew because he died before my Mom and Dad ever met), and her life in Dover, NJ. It was a cold November day with gray skies. I remember this because the Family Cookbook was a Christmas Gift for my Gram's Grandchildren. I wanted to include current photos of Gram. I took two rolls of black and white film as Gram talked and baked. For the life of me now I cannot find them. They are here somewhere, I hope. 

Friend Roessler Nicholas + Her Christmas Stollen
This past Easter weekend, my sisters, Mom, and my nieces were talking about the Cookbook Project. I was unemployed, looking for work after graduating with my Masters Degree in Textiles from Colorado State University. I was back living with my parents, not knowing what I would do with my life. It was an awkward time in my life - when I was trying to find my way. The economy was totally awful and there was no work for an unexperienced, over-educated young woman. It was that time when I was a young adult but didn't have anything of my own - no job, no career, no home - my life was in limbo. 

I needed something to do with my time. Gram was 81, still living in her own home, still cooking, baking, sewing, quilting, and gardening. Gram had always been such a huge part of our lives and was a huge influence on me personally. She was in the process of crocheting her 8 grandchildren each a Single Crochet Ripple Afghan in 100% wool yarn. Can you imagine crocheting 8 of them when you are 80? That is the kind of woman she was - taking a task and carrying through on it. Besides the Single Crochet Ripple Afghans, she also made things to sell at the Church Fair - jelly, dried flower arrangements, and handmade things. 

I cannot believe my good fortune to have had a role model like Gram in my life. As I listened to her speak on the old cassette tape as Garageband was recording, I couldn't help but tear up - with happiness that I had this slice of her still with me - the memories, the example of a life well lived -- it is totally precious and an inspiration for any age I am.

Frieda Roessler Nicholas - My Paternal Grandmother
This past Easter weekend, I encouraged my nieces to do a similar thing with their surviving Grandparents. To tape a conversation, to take photos, to spend a good long day with their Grandparents - doing nothing in particular but recording and photographing. I could do this same thing with my mom but I really think that a grandparent/grandchild relationship is so different. I think that Gram shared things with me that she would never have shared with her son, my Dad. I don't know if the girls will get their acts together to do such a thing but I will keep encouraging them.

I write this here on my blog so that perhaps you too might do a special project with an older or younger person you treasure. Perhaps stitch a quilt, embroider a pillowcase (or set of pillowcases), teach a grandchild or child to knit or embroider, write a cookbook together, tape a conversation about their/your life. None of these things cost much to do - mostly it is finding the time to do it, organizing the project, and getting a willing participant. There are lifelong lessons and opportunities that can disappear in a flash when a special person is no longer around. 

Seize the summer months that are upcoming. Take time now to plan your special project of making and creating if you have the opportunity. You will be happy you did. And I hope you will tell me about the project if you do it!

I am still taking orders for my new book Crafting a Colorful Home. You can purchase signed copies on my website for $27.95. I am still offering FREE Freight and a set of Kristin Postcards. Check it out here

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sunflowers - In the Garden and In Crewel Embroidery Stitches - Preview 1

Last summer, I worked on crewel embroidery projects while at the Tuesday Farmer's Market in Northampton. My stand is not very busy and I have to have something to work on or else I go bonkers. The first project I made was my Circles Sampler which I made into a kit which is for sale on my website here

My second project was a little more realistic and based on one of my favorite flowers - the sunflower. For years, I have been growing sunflowers. If you are a longtime reader, you probably look forward to seeing the photos in September and October when the sunflowers are at their peak. I thought it would be fun to turn the natural inspiration into a stitched piece of crewel work. The wool thread I use (and sell here) is the perfect texture for sunflowers. 

Today I am going to share with you one of the sunflowers I stitched hoping that some of you might give Crewel Embroidery a try. (I teach Crewel Embroidery on-line on Craftsy - link for 50% off on my sidebar. I am also offering an advanced Crewel Embroidery Class here at the farm in August. Info here.) I will continue the previews over the next week or so. I've also dug into my photo archives to share the natural inspiration. Let's start with a beautiful vase full of blooms from last September. 

Let's start with the smallest flower.... This flower was inspired by the bi-colored sunflowers called Strawberry Blonde and Pro-Cut Bi-Color

Here is the finished stitched flower.....

Petals were made of closely packed stem stitch as was the dark brown center. I used bullion knots to represent the multi-colored petals mixing two shades of orange in the needle. To create the puffy outside ring of the flower, I used more bullion knots over a multi-color outer ring stitched in stem stitch. Here is a close-up of those stitches.

I stitched the leaves in closely packed chain stitch. On the outside edge of the leaf, I worked an open buttonhole stitch mixing two colors of wool thread in the needle. Leaves of sunflowers are usually jagged and this stitch approximated the look. 

I teach Crewel Embroidery on-line on Craftsy - link for 50% off on my sidebar. I am also offering an advanced Crewel Embroidery Class here at the farm in August. Info here.) 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Happy Easter - Happy Spring from the Farm

We are off to a family lunch but I wanted to pop in and wish you all a Happy Easter and Happy Spring from all of us at the farm. Here are a few photos of some of the new arrivals from earlier in the week. The snow is almost gone now and the sheep are beginning to poke around looking for any green shoot they can find (wishful thinking!). 

I just discovered this beautiful Easter tradition from Sicily via Julia Della Croce -- almond paste Easter lambs. So sweet - all covered with flowers and beaded confections. Did anyone grow up with this tradition? Made of marzipan, this is a sweeter rendition of the butter lambs (also sweet in a different way) from the other day (see butter lamb video here). Here are directions to make a butter lamb. 

Photo by Julia Della Croce from her blog Forktales

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates and Happy Spring to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere!