Sunflowers

“Geurilla Gardening”

We’ve been needing sites for sunflowers, and today we found a patch of land we can geurilla garden for sunflowers!  It’s an unclaimed patch of land in-between someone’s house and a very short bike path.  The owner of the house was unable to get anyone who might own it to maintain it, so she goes through and clears out the accumulated household trash (people use it as a dump site) and prunes it back every once in a while.

So I biked past all this trash the other day, and I saw sunflowers in its future.  I contacted her and asked if she’d host a spring cleanup and then we could grow sunflowers there, and she was all for it!  Hurray!

I checked portlandmaps.com, and it looks like it’s just public right of way like any other street (only this one’s for peds/bikes/etc).  It’s probably supposed to be maintained by the neighbors like the alleys around here, anyway.  So it’s perfect.

Sun, Water, Soil

So now we have to figure out how to grow sunflowers on minimal water.  Because we figure it would be asking too much to ask her for water, too.  From what we’re reading, they seem to need a LOT of water, once a week, so that they can develop deep taproots.  So on one hand, we need water.  On the other hand, these are sunflowers.  They need 6-8 hours of direct sun.  It seems like it gets a decent amount of sun.  Not as much as possible, but we can prune the trees up if needed and do a bit of hugelkulturing with the prunings.  Darin says if it warms up, we might be able to get a green manure crop in, but that would probably mean also finding the time to clean up the piles of trash prior to the spring cleanup party, so we’ll see if we find the time for that!

Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so we are going to have to find a source of brown matter to match the pig food we can get from the Food Share.  And we are going to need to build another compost pile.  We could use sawdust, but that probably wouldn’t compost fast enough.  We watched this video, which can basically be summarized by saying that an urban alternative to leaf mold is coffee chaff.  Coffee chaff is apparently a by-product of roasting coffee.  So maybe we will call up some roasters and see if they’re giving any away!  This stuff is apparently bulky, but very lightweight, which will mean we don’t need to plan as much time for hauling it home if all the coffee roasters turn out to be in a different part of town.  Hopefully we can figure out a way to reduce how much water the sunflowers need by doing a really good job on the soil.

They don’t want a lot of nitrogen, but they do want potassium & phosphorus.  Soil acidity seems like it should be close to neutral.

Darin here: **Bokashi **also seems like a promising way to break down “green” matter that works around our current lack of “brown” carbon matter.  Bokashi is a sealed anaerobic composting/fermentation system: add some concentrated lactobacillus culture to a container of chopped or mashed food scraps and let it work until the food is partially decomposed (pickled?), then bury it in your garden for worms and other soil-dwellers to consume and further decompose.  In our case, this might be a good candidate for burying under sunflowers in mini-hugelkultur mounds.  </Darin>

Growing the Geurilla Garden

We have assorted seeds for sunflowers that grow at a bunch of different heights.  I’m hoping to do some rows of sunflowers that do a gradient from quite short to mammoth tall.

From Will Bonsall’s book, we know that we don’t need to stake the sunflowers.  They ARE stakes!  What we need is string to tie them together.  Bonsall recommends pole beans for this purpose.  So pole beans we’ll grow.  Bonsall also suggest growing sunflowers in mounds rather than rows.  I forget what the logic is behind this, and Darin remembers, but he’s meditating (or sleeping!  update: wow!  he was awake that whole time! He didn’t warm the biofeedback card up, though), so I don’t want to interrupt.  The logic is in the book.  Also, I might try putting in a few melon plants for companions.

Update: The reason to do mounds instead of rows is so the sunflowers don’t blow over as easily.  The wind goes through the clumps of sunflowers instead of hitting a wall of sunflowers and flattening them.

But we have other gardens!

Yep, so much gardening to do.  We picked up some sand ahead of schedule the other day (play area sand, they filter the extra-fine non-sand particles out so you don’t have to wear a mask around the stuff), which will be good for Annex #2’s tomato bed using Carol Deppe’s technique from “The Resilient Gardener”.

Finding a good place to grow mainly sunflowers has been on my to-do list. We’re going to want to be growing some food with fats and proteins in them.  I like the idea of doing it at the “Geurilla Garden” location, because this is a shared ped/bike path where everyone will be traveling at an appropriate pace to enjoy the flowers.  It’s also surrounded on either side of the path by wooden fences, which is great, because I was reading that the sunflowers would prefer not to be anywhere too windy.

We’re in the process of mapping out our gardens so we can get some help with planning out succession planting at all the various locations. We are wiping out our “education budget” for the year (which we mostly already spent on seeds and bagged compost) to get the help of an garden coach.  The one who gave us a free fantastic information-rich overview of how to prune and who is going to be doing a pruning workshop for the North Portland Tool Library.  She’s really really good, and we have been a little overwhelmed by all the variables.  I figure we can support her a little, she is giving us a discount for mapping out our gardens, and all our plants will be happier because they won’t be suffering from our inexpert planning skills.

Current Reading

Sistah Vegan”, which I’m only just starting, makes a really good case for veganism so far, and that’s not even the point of the book!  I guess this doesn’t technically have anything to do with the sunflower patch, except that every sunflower we grow is one less expired dairy product we’ll be using from the food share (which in turn is still reliant on a food system that converts petroleum into food in so many ways, and ALSO the less I go to the food share, the less likely I am to eat an entire container of “expired” maraschino cherries in one sitting: they have so much sugar at the food share).  Our goal is to theoretically grow and eat most of our own food, plus enough to share.  But that’s kind of a lot of food.  It might take a while to get that good at it.  I suppose I’m off on a tangent, but anyway, this book was just sitting on display at the library when I walked in the other day!  The librarians there are good at this.

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