Three Things Thursday: 21 July 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, unplanned plants. I do love an unexpected visitor in the garden and, in this particular case, in the limery. Some of the seed that we put out for the birds must have got into the potting compost, because one of my pepper plants has a companion. I nearly weeded it out when I first noticed it, but then I thought how lovely it would be if it flowered… and how right I was:

Second, the ‘big 50’. Not quite my birthday yet (although that will be happening in a few months time) but swimming. Since I started in mid-January, I have been swimming 50 times. I swim a minimum of a kilometre every time I go, so I’ve swum quite a long way this year. My annual pass has been a great investment and, in fact I’m close to having covered the cost already.

Third, swapsies! I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was swapping my knitting skills for some yarn. The deal is that I knit Kathryn some socks and she sends me some of the yarn that she is no longer able to use. So far I am up on the deal as the yarn to knit up, plus my ‘payment’ arrived yesterday. As well as the commercially produced yarn, Kathryn also sent me a little of the yarn she spins herself, which is lovely. I have a trip away at the end of next week, so Kathryn’s socks will be on my needles for that.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

Sunflower seeds

Some of the sunflowers are still blooming in September

Some of the sunflowers are still blooming in September

This year has been particularly good for volunteer sunflowers (originating from bird seed) and we have managed a great show, mainly within the four sisters bed. Some we have allowed to grow in situ and some I have transplanted from the places they originally germinated. The continued good weather has meant that seeds have formed within the flower heads and they have not simply rotted, as has happened in previous years.

Sunflower seeds – just need to ripen up a little more

There are still some lovely blooms, but a couple of the heads have seeds that are fully developed and, after a little more ripening, will be good to harvest. We could simply leave them in place and let the birds feed directly on them, but I have a feeling that the stems will not continue to support the heavy heads for too much longer, Anyway, the birds are currently showing no interest in these seeds and continue to focus on the familiar feeders. In fact, this year is set to be an amazing one for wild seeds and berries, so the birds may not need our help! I could cut the heads and enclose them in a mesh bag, placing them somewhere dry to allow the seeds to fall out on their own. Alternatively, it’s possible to scrape the seeds off the head using a spoon once the heads have dried so the back is yellow or brown, not green. Or, I could follow the advice of Buffalo Bird Woman:

The sunflower heads were dried face downward, that the sun falling on the back of the head might dry and shrink the fiber, thus loosening the seeds… When the heads had dried about four days, the seeds were threshed out… To thresh the heads, a skin was spread and the heads laid on it face downward, and beaten with a stick

So, depending how energetic I’m feeling, there are a number of approaches! I quite like the idea of beating them with a stick.

The question then, is what to use them for… such versatile things. We may simply feed them to the wild birds or to the chickens, but I do like bread with sunflower seeds in it, so feeding them to us also seems like a good option. In that case I need to remove them from their shells. Buffalo Bird Woman describes parching the seeds so that the hulls split open, then pounding them to flour, but there seems to be some sort of threshing stage missing from her description. You can, apparently, whizz them in a food processor briefly, then put them in water, so that the shells float and the seeds sink. The other suggestion I have seen is to put them through a grain mill (I have one of these) to crack open the hulls and then to thresh them (or perhaps use the flotation technique). I think some experimentation is needed! I will report back; or perhaps some one out there knows better and can tell me what will work?

This unexpected harvest has made me enthusiastic to grow more sunflowers, but the pragmatist in me says that we are unlikely to have many more summers that will provide the right conditions. So, I think that I will continue to nurture any volunteers and just rejoice when (if) I do ever manage another crop.

The four sisters


Sunlight streams through the willow hedge onto the ‘four sisters’

When I wrote about the ‘three sisters‘ planting that I did earlier in the year, I promised I would report on how it has progressed. Well, the situation so far is good – beans are flowering, we have already harvested our first courgettes and the flint corn is shooting up. However, I have to confess that I introduced an extra sister into the mix by including sunflowers, and these too are doing well.

You may be wondering about the sunflowers and I have to admit that growing them was unintentional (although not unwelcome). We feed a mix containing sunflower seeds to the wild birds in the garden. Earlier in the year I left a tub-trug containing compost near to one of the window feeders and clearly not all of the seeds that the birds dislodged got eaten. Thus, when I planted my intentional seeds in pots, I got some sunflowers too. Never liking to let anything go to waste, I planted these in with the three sisters combination of corn, curcurbits (courgette and squash) and beans. And, my word they are doing well. No only that, but my transplants have been joined by some self-seeded individuals (volunteers) that have appeared directly in the bed.

The UK is currently experiencing very sunny weather, so I have high hopes for this bed, although I can’t see any winter squash fruit setting yet, and the female flowers on the corn are only just appearing. It certainly looks like there will be a good harvest of both beans and courgettes anyway, and I’ll let you judge the prospects for the fourth sister:

Good morning sunflower!

Good morning sunflower!

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