Despite the least amount of rainfall I have had since 2007, my fields did amazing this year. What we lacked in quantity of rain was made up for in timing. Every time we absolutely needed rain, we got it. Lots of it, with no violent storms.
We cut and sold nearly every saleable flower from the sunflower fields. The demand was so high that there were a few times the flowers never made it back into the cooler after we had bunched them. I just had to deliver them right away. From a low of 1,000 sunflowers cut per day to a high of over 4,500 per day, we could just barely keep up with demand.
Then, in late August, Mother Nature showed me her dark side. There weren’t any storms predicted until late afternoon that day. Thank goodness for cell phones with weather apps. I was out in the field, in the dark with a headlamp on stripping leaves at 4 a.m. I saw lightning and heard the thunder getting closer and closer. I pulled up the radar and saw that I was about to get hammered with a violent thunderstorm cell.
I jumped on the ATV and barely made it to the house when 70mph straight-line winds hit with walls of water embedded in them. We had 2 more violent storms hit over the next hour. When the sun came up, we were able to see that my last three fields, some 100,000 sunflowers, had been laid flat. There went my best season ever, dang flabbit.
When I checked on the seed production fields, I was surprised that they weren’t laid flat. However, my largest field was really messed up, and well over half of the plants were broken and face down in the mud. One field by the house wasn’t touched at all, how’d that happen? The other 3 fields had about 10 to 15% damage.
When the time was right, we set to the task of hand-harvesting the seed heads. Fortunately, a friend who owns a nursery had greenhouses that were empty. She allowed me to spread my seed heads out in them so they could dry down before I could thrash them. Once they were dry, I was able to thrash them in a small hammermill, which separates the seed from the flower head. Next, I had to run that material through a vintage fanning mill which I had refurbished (it had been used to clean oats, beans, and corn 70 years ago). It is amazing how much raw material you start with compared to how much seed is left after all the chaff is separated and blown away.
The field that produced the most seed was the 3/4-acre field by the house which was undamaged by the storms. My greatest hope for seed was the 2 acres of mixed field that got severely damaged. In addition to being damaged, the overall number of viable seeds per acre was not as productive as I had hoped it would be. It produced about 50% of what it should have due to the storms. The other three fields produced good seed, but those fields I am culling for particular colors and won’t be for sale for a few years.
After consulting friends in the seed world, we have concluded that I should really have 2X as much seed on hand to start selling outright. I just don’t have enough seed for a mass seed launch in 2022 while still retaining enough seed to replant more acreage next year and keep increasing seed production for sales in 2023. In addition, I must hold a certain % in reserve to cover myself in case of a crop failure or disaster (i.e. Hold back a percent of seed in reserve to be able to plant the following year and not lose the genetics or a growing season).
I know that’s not what most of you wanted to hear. I am certainly enthusiastic about getting them out there for you all to see their beauty firsthand. I am sincerely disappointed that I simply don’t have enough seed to do a mass seed launch. Since I am new at this game, I need to take the advice from the experts who are already in the realm of selling seeds and that’s their recommendation.
So that’s the disappointing news. Now for a little glimmer of sunshine...
If you have followed me on Instagram for a while, you know I am strong in my faith. You may have also seen me reference my family's place up in Northern Wisconsin. In the near future, I will be letting you all in on what is so special about that place, and how it is tied to my discovery and continued propagation of this flower.
I am working on a project with someone who shares much of my faith values and is well known on social media. We will be telling another side of this flower’s story: the purpose side. We will be working out the details of a limited sale of seed packets. The proceeds of the seeds will go for a higher purpose. We are going to be meeting for 3 days in December to hash out the details. So, what I’m saying is… YES, some seed packets will be for sale this year, but a limited amount.
I still need to keep most of my seed so that I can get to the point of a mass seed launch in 2023. As soon as we have the details worked out, I will post it on IG. We will produce a YouTube Video to tell the whole story. I can’t wait to share this with you all!