Sunflower FAIL

Did you know that I’m going to be featuring the projects that I f**k up, in order to force myself to embrace failure as a means of learning, growing, and becoming a better person all-around? Okay, cool!

This blog post is about sunflowers. I planted them from seed and watched with giddy fascination as they sprouted into tiny stalks, grew into monster stalks, had to be staked, babied, watered, staked again, then grew to be over 6 ft tall (I’m pretty sure some got real close to the 8 ft mark) and sprouted their massive, bold yellow heads. Joy!

As the summer peaked in Seattle, the heat was horrible for my delicate plants (all of them) but the sunflowers in particular. They drooped, the petals wrinkled up, and it seemed no amount of water could revive them. I waited for the yellow and brown heads that indicate that they are ready to be harvested. At the very first sight of yellowing, I hacked them all down!

So obviously this was my first mistake. But I was willing to give myself harder work in getting the seeds out in order to reclaim the beauty of my back yard (just joking, it’s really ugly most of the time. Work in progress.)

Anyway, I was pretty excited about hacking them down, so here are a bunch of pictures of me prepping the sunflower heads to dry.

“We’re not ready!”

Cross-section to show where the seeds are in the sunflower head

Some seeds fell out on their own when I tore that head in half – that’s a good sign right?

“We’re not ready either!”

Listen, I say this all with the luxury of hind-sight. At the time, I was pretty sure that I could let the heads dry and harvest the seeds and all would be well. And it might have turned out that way…

Drying by the kitchen window

Except I completely f**ked it up.

Here’s how it went. I took the really big sunflower heads and I decided to harvest those seeds in one batch and the smaller seeds in a second batch. Then I could take the really big guys and save some seeds to plant the next season.

So I went to harvest the seeds, after about a week of the sunflowers drying on the kitchen window (which started out like “aw, pretty, fall decor!” and ended up “my god, what ARE these things?”) The Internet told me that once the heads were dry, I could simply brush the seeds out with my hands. Some people used wire brush or rubbed two heads together. I tried all of this and nothing worked. Determined to NOT FAIL, I started picking the seeds out one. by. one. Eventually I got to the point where I could sooooort of brush the seeds out, but it was a lot more muscle work than I was prepared for, and it took hours.

Now I have a big bowl of seeds! I toss the ravaged heads into the compost and decide that after all that work, I’m not going to dry the seeds right away. I’m going to leave that for another day. At this point, I do realize that the seeds are small and some of them very tender. They will probably end up as bird feed for the winter, and not for human consumption, which is fine. I cover those bad boys with saran wrap and wait for a few days until I can figure out what to do with them.

Are you putting it all together yet? Still damp immature seeds in a covered bowl = condensation = moisture = mold. Yay! Fuzzy little white mold on all the seeds.

When I found this out last weekend, I honestly thought I was going to throw up. Hours of work down the drain, and should I just toss the other sunflowers out? Would birds eat the seeds if I just leave the heads out over the winter? Or will that just attract raccoons?

To be honest, I haven’t decided how I will wrap this project up, or how much I can salvage from it. I may not be able to salvage any of it, but in the end, we had really beautiful sunflowers all summer!

Okay, so here’s how this FAIL fits into my three metrics of measuring failure:

1. Learned something. Check. We plan on growing sunflowers again next summer, and I will definitely have more patience in both the late stages of growing and the harvesting.

2. Humor. Working on it… It’s helpful to write a retrospective so that I can look back on my decisions and joke about how my excited nature doomed me to f**k up this project – but at the time I was so bummed.

3. Losing the burden of perfection. This one is harder to judge, but I think I’m getting there. It was an experiment, and experiments fail sometimes. I am happy that the damn things grew at all! Did they have to also be our resident chickadees’ food all winter?

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