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Sunflowers in the Food Forest

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Wild sunflowers start to pop up in our yard in the spring, and we let many of them grow big and tall so by summer they are towering over the garden.

They help shade more sensitive plants from the harsh summer sun, provide food and forage for a large variety of birds, make good wind blocks, privacy hedges, bean trellises, bouquets, tomato supports, decoy plants for squirrels, and support bee health. And they surely serve many other a functions in the food forest ecosystem that we are only just beginning to observe. 

In the heat of the summer, we often notice these hummingbird-sized grasshoppers on our okra plants. They munch some of the leaves, but don't seem to mess with the plants much otherwise, and we still get plenty of okra. And it's always a daily highlight to watch cardinals perch in the sunflowers to survey the area, swoop down onto the okra plants, and feast on the grasshoppers.

We keep hearing this distinct chirping noise outside our kitchen window and every time we look, sure enough - it's a cardinal keeping our grasshopper population in check. This is always a good reminder that our garden supports so many more creatures than just us. No need to panic at the first sight of a garden pest -- just bring in diversity and let nature do it's thing. 

Now we've gotten to the part of the summer where the sunflowers are dry and cripsy, with most of the flowers gone. This is often when people start pulling up the plants because they look ugly, but we'll leave ours quite a bit longer, providing afternoon refuge for the many varieties of birds who come to feed on the seed heads. Eventually, once most of the seeds have dropped or been eaten, we'll clip the plants at the base and let the roots rot in the ground, adding nutrients to the soil. 


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