This year we grew sunflowers at our property for the first time.
We decided to sow a crop after picking up a few old dried heads from a planting out the front of a local school.
Of course, they have been BEAUTIFUL. Sunflowers are absolutely glorious beacons of summer and they have given us a lot of pleasure.
However, by observing and interacting with our crop, it's become obvious that sunflowers have usefulness and purpose in permaculture systems that extend beyond their aesthetic, and their "easy growing" nature.
Sunflowers lure beneficial bugs (including pollinators) into the garden, therefore acting to improve pollination of fruit and vegetables.
A Living Trellis
The strong and sturdy stalks of sunflowers act as a perfect natural trellis for summer crops such as cucumbers and beans.
Shade and Companion Planting
Sunflowers cast a shadow as they grow. This makes a good location for growing plants such as lettuce and spinach, which can otherwise bolt in full summer sun.
Green Biomass for Compost & Mulch
At the end of the growing season, chopped stalks and leaves of sunflowers spread over the garden as mulch helps protect the soil over winter. Chopped stalks and leaves can also be added to the compost pile as "green" nitrogen-rich material.
Nutrition for Humans and Animals
Sunflower seeds have a fantastic nutritional composition (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263340213_Nutritional_and_therapeutic_potential_of_sunflower_seeds_A_review). How sunflower seeds are consumed is often determined by their size and colour (which are variety dependent). You can harvest sunflower seeds after the sunflower heads have browned and dried.
The larger, often “striped” seeds, have human culinary application. These seeds need to be hulled and roasted prior to eating. Sunflower seeds add a tasty, nutritious crunch to salads, stir fries, veggie patties and biscuits. They also make a great substitute for nuts in any pesto!
The smaller black seeds can be pressed to produce oil, and the left over meal given to chickens to eat. Feeding the whole, un-pressed black seeds to chickens as a treat in autumn and winter helps them to gain weight and stay warm in the cooler months. The healthy oils of the seeds add shine and gloss to chicken feathers that increases their water resistance, also helping the bird to stay warm in winter.
Please comment on any additional features of sunflowers for use in permaculture you think should be highlighted below!