Sunflowers : Twilight Time

The sunflowers now are in the equivalent of their their twilight years, past their bright yellow prime, all rather brown and withered, heads bowed towards the earth – it won’t be long before we are looking at a freshly ploughed field. Time to capture some final shots, and it seems sunset is the best time.

I now realise that sunflowers point permanently in the same direction all day long – namely to the East. The buds are heliotropic (a bit like me) and at the end of the bud stage all plants are polarized to face in the one direction.

The plants remain in the fields long after the beautiful yellow petals have shrivelled and died. The sunflower however is now busy sorting out its seeds, which considering that it is a commercial crop, is actually the reason for its existence, its raison d’etre.

The seeds will go on to be used to produce sunflower oil, to be used in cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel. The cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed.

These mature flowers have droopy heads, looking at the ground, which adds to their forlorn appearance – but this reduces bird damage and losses due to certain diseases.

Its now early October and ‘our’ sunflowers are still there – but most of their compatriots have been gathered up and no doubt squashed and the oil extracted. I suspect Denys the farmer will be along soon with his noisy, ancient combine harvester to do the same.

UPDATE : the farmer has just been and harvested the sunflowers…

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A Big Thank You to the Sunflowers

The sunflowers this summer have been quite magnificent, and the house has been surrounded on three sides by their sunny, cheerful faces. This years are even more special because of the added dimension of suspecting that they could possibly be providing the raw materials for our first honey.

At their peak, each flower had perhaps 2 or even 3 bees working away collecting pollen / nectar.

I think we can be fairly certain that the honey that we did harvest comes virtually exclusively from the sunflowers. In other words, its a monofloral honey. I like to think that the bright yellow colour backs this theory up. The honey is now starting to crystallise- so whereas the honey initially was clear and reasonably fluid, it is now more opaque and much thicker and creamy – but equally delicious.

I have read that honeybees collect mostly nectar from sunflowers, whilst wild bees collect the pollen. Honeybees however cannot avoid picking up pollen – and will transfer it from flower to flower. Sunflowers rarely self-pollinate, and scientific research shows that pollinated sunflowers have a higher seed yield. A nicely balanced partnership.

The sunflower head is made up of individual florets, which start to open from the outside in. In the image below, there are five or six rings of florets which have opened – and will continue to open at the rate of two or three rings per day. On the day I took this image, all the bees were to be found just in this inner rim of the sunflowers. Each floret will mature into a sunflower seed.

flowers within the flower

So, a big thank you this year to the sunflowers – not only for their aesthetic perfection, their colour and cheer – but also the 30 odd jars of super honey. I must go and deliver a big pot to the farmer who planted the sunflowers, although I’m not sure if he should be thanking us (and the bees) as well – I wonder if the seed output has increased.

they can even be used for floral displays