- Author: Michelle Davis
A few evenings back, driving into town, I saw a young woman park her minivan next to a field of sunflowers. She and a little girl got out of their car and walked up to the flowers. The little girl was about the same height as the shorter stalked variety, while the woman was towered over by the taller type. I have passed the fields of sunflowers each summer in our area for many years. I have always enjoyed looking at the tournesols, as the French call them, translated “turns towards the sun”. While some think of Provence when seeing sunflowers, they actually originated in North America. Of approximately 70 varieties only 3 originated in South America.
Sunflowers were first cultivated by Native Americans. The seeds were pounded into flour for bread or cracked and eaten raw or crushed for oil. Other parts of the plant were used for body ointment, dyes, medicine, building material and ceremonial use. The Spanish explorers took the seed to Europe in the 1500's, and it has flourished there since. In the early 1700s, an Englishman devised a way to squeeze the oil from the seed on a larger scale basis. Russia became the largest grower in the 1800s. Today Ukraine is Number 1 and Russia Number 2 as the top growers in the world. The US has about 3 million acres planted with sunflowers and about 90% is of the type used for making sunflower oil. The seed pulp that is left after crushing and squeezing for the oil is used for livestock feed. Whole seeds are used for human snack food and for birdseed.
Something you may not know about sunflowers is that they were planted at Chernobyl and Fukushima after the radiation accidents at each place. A researcher from the University of Virginia, Catie Kitrinos has found that some (not all) sunflower varieties can remove toxins (lead, zinc, uranium) from the soil while growing, a process called phytoremediation. The plants are safely destroyed (not eaten) after they have matured. This process is much less costly in taking care of radioactive or heavy metal-laden soil.
Sunflowers grow quickly reaching their full height in about 120 days. Their roots can be 9 feet deep. In the fall, after they have dried on the stalk, the sunflower heads are harvested. The larger black seeds are typically used for oil, the striped ones for human snack food, and the smaller black seeds for birdseed. Birds don't actually care if seeds are striped or black and will eat what they find. Since each sunflower head can produce up to 1000 seeds, there should be plenty to share.
- Author: Lowell Cooper
There is little doubt that trees are wonderful – both out in nature and in home gardens. My wife and I have lived in our current home for over 20 years and when we moved into our very modest-sized front and backyard were quite undeveloped. With the advice and consent of a Master Gardener, who was incidentally quite wonderful, I embarked on a 7-year plan since I thought that was how long we would be in the house. At this point, I have no idea where I thought we were going after 7 years. I also had my own planting ideas. So off I went and within 6 months I had put in about 20 trees. Little ones, like dwarf lemon, apricot, and peach (which is not all that small). I also put in a jacaranda, a wonderful palm (Washingtonia), an empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa), a silk tree (Albizia), 2 Arbutus, and a Robinia, and others. They all began to grow and for the (most part) stayed quite healthy.
Our house is in a hilly section of Benicia and we love our view. In fact, it is in a development that takes advantage of the view and we have a really dramatic hill-view of the Carquinez Straits and bridge which is a great source of pleasure. There is really a lot of life on urban waterways. The problem is, our neighbors also treasure their view.
The smaller trees grew quite well and before too long we were able to give bags of fruit to the neighbors and to receive their largesse also. All good. The big trees, however, also grew rather spectacularly. I must say I feel like I did nothing to encourage them other than look at them often with admiration. They were placed so that they didn't interfere with our view, but not so for the neighbors, who seemed to enjoy the arboreal majesty as much as we did. Much to their credit, there were no big complaints. In fact, we weren't noticing just how intrusive they were for the neighbors until we were standing on their property and happened to notice that they couldn't see the water anymore. Clearly, our seven-year plan had some limits: we had outgrown it.
It was a hard decision, but we thought it best for neighbor goodwill to cut some down. So, after 15 years of enjoying them, many had to come down. I tried to be as selective as I could about what to eliminate, but I missed each and every one. It is amazing to me just how much majesty the big trees added to the garden space and the property as a whole.
I ask myself what I learned from the experience. I got 15 years of enjoyment from the trees and that makes it worth doing, keeping in mind what the neighborhood can bear. Gardening is a community event, in a private garden as well as a public one. And a good neighbor policy has to be part of the landscaping plan.
- Author: Janet Snyder
- Author: Tina Saravia
A few years ago, I purchased a one-gallon plant from the Solano College plant sale. The label said Dorycinum hirsutum. I quickly planted it in my bare backyard and waited for it to grow. It's a slow growing plant and took several years to really show it's beauty and to reseed.
It doesn't require a lot of water. I don't have drip irrigation or working sprinklers in the backyard. Like any “drought tolerant” plants, it needs regular watering in the beginning but once it's established it can thrive with neglectful watering, or no watering, as in the case of the hairy canary clover, it's common name.
As its name implies, the hairy canary clover has fuzzy leaves. It is a low, sub-shrub perennial plant in theFabaceae family, the nitrogen-fixing family. It does not need extra fertilizer to survive as its roots fix nitrogen in the air. It blooms in the spring and attracts a lot of bees (and a photo-bomber chicken).
Here's a link to a more detailed description of this must-check-out landscape plant:
- Author: Betty Victor
There is only about a month and a half to stop by the Master Gardener's information table at Home Depot in Fairfield, before Oct 1st, which will be our last time for this year. We hope to be back again April 2019, but you still can contact us if you have any gardening questions.
Our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the hotline 707-784-1322.
If by chance you don't know who the Master Gardeners are, we are all volunteers under the UC Cooperative Extension Program that have gone through weeks of training on different gardening topics.
The information table at Home Depot is different from those held at farmers markets. First, there are no fresh fruit or vegetables. There are plants that produce these. But what the Master Gardeners at the information table do is help you by showing you the different soils, what would be best for your garden project. Whether it is vegetables, flowers, succulents and more. We can show and tell you about the IPM program (Integrated Pest Management) the less toxic and safer pest control.
We can walk the inside or outside garden with you and show you some plants that might work for your garden project.
We also have free take-home pest notes on the “good bugs” as well as the “bad bugs”. As well as other gardening information.
We are at Home Depot every other Saturday from 10am -2pm. Look for us either in the inside garden or the outside garden depending on the weather.
You can also sign up to receive our blogs and a quarterly pamphlet “Seed for Thought”. Master Gardeners write articles for each of these. By the way, these are free as well as any information we have.
If by chance you ask us a question that stumps us, yes, it happens, we will take your information find the answer and get back to you. No question is too small, stop and ask or just to say “hello”.