Cover crops provide nutrients and organic matter to the soil in between seasons where crops have been harvested and the ground would otherwise be barren or growing up in weeds. A beautiful option for summer cover crops is sunflowers which are deep-rooted and bring nutrients to the surface of the soil. In addition to adding beauty to the farm, the flowering 5 to 6 foot stalks also attract pollinating and beneficial insects. We sowed them closely to help suppress weeds especially crabgrass. They also require little irrigation to sustain their rapid growth and are largely free of insect or disease damage.
Dried sunflower seeds are a nutrient-laden snack. They are useful in developing cooking oils. Birds (and chickens) love them. They are used in biodiesel production. Cut sunflower stalks offer a beautiful and long-lasting flower arrangement.
We experienced an especially creative use of sunflowers as a cover crop when visiting Brown’s Family Farm in Rougemont at the end of last October with our daughters and grandkids. The farm had sown a large stand of sunflowers and created a fun-to-explore maze. This gave us the inspiration to sow some of the garden later to have sunflowers blooming up until freezing weather.
Next summer save some room in your garden to grow sunflowers. -Larry Newlin September, 2018