I saw the cutest idea the other day. There was a company that was selling sunflower playhouses. The idea was simple enough – they sold you enough sunflower seeds to plant sunflowers in a row in order to make three-four foot walls with the fourth wall that had a door opening. How fun is that, privacy with style.
After I saw that cute little playhouse my mind really started working. What about a bean house or a pea house? You could even make your new playhouse multi-faceted by planting one wall of peas, one wall of beans and finishing it off with the sunflowers. Your kids could go out and play in their playhouse and eat a healthy snack at the same time. It is certainly cheaper and less time consuming than building a playhouse out of wood and you can reclaim your grass at the end of the year.
Another thing that I discovered was that you can eat a specific sunflower tuber. They are called sunflower chokes, or are sometimes better known as the Jerusalem artichoke. They, the healthy eating gourmet cooks that I saw on TV, said that you can use them much like water chestnuts or potatoes. You can eat them raw or cook them, it really doesn’t matter. You don’t want to harvest them until after the first frost because the frost will make them sweeter, kind of like it is best to wait for the first frost with grapes so that they reach the height of sweetness (don’t get the idea that chokes are sweet like grapes, they’re not). My kids grew sunflowers once when they were young, but we’ve never grown this type.
The Jerusalem artichoke plant grows about four to six foot tall, about the right height for a playhouse, but you do need to be careful because they can spread out. I am really curious about what sunflower tubers taste like. For this particular sunflower you plant it similar to the way you plant potatoes, making sure that you have a chunk of tuber that has at least two to three eyes and is no less than 2 oz. in weight, but you don’t want to cure them or let them dry out like you do with potatoes. Plant them right away after cutting them up. The gourmet cooks on TV showed the chokes and they were actually bigger than I thought they would be, about the size of a small to medium potato. I am so curious.
These plants grow well in the North (our area) and in just about any kind soil. When harvesting them you want to be gentle because their skin is very thin and you don’t want to bruise them. You can buy the tubers on-line at www.johnnyseed.com or www.gurneys.com. “Stampede” is supposedly the best tuber to buy. Of course I am sure that you can buy the ready to eat tubers at some health food stores, but then you wouldn’t be enjoying your playhouse. I got this information from Meredith at the USU Extension Service in Provo (I have them on speed dial) and she was most informative. She also said that if you want more information about the Jerusalem artichoke (or sunflower choke) that you can go to www.ces.ncsu.edu (North Carolina Extension Service) and they have a really good fact sheet on how to take care of the Jerusalem artichoke and more.
If you don’t want to worry about eating the tubers, still plant the regular sunflowers that give you sunflower seeds and in the fall have the kids cut the heads off and hang them in the trees for the birds in the wintertime – or just eat them yourself. This brings up a really good thought about your food storage – do you have seeds? Seeds are very important to include in your food storage. Some seeds you can eat just as they are and you really don’t have to do much to use them, like sunflower seeds or sesame seeds. Other seeds can be sprouted so that you can get the necessary nutrients you need without having to wait for an outdoor garden to mature. Did you know that you get more nutritious value from broccoli sprouts than you do from mature broccoli? It’s true, and that’s pretty hard to do considering that broccoli is the most perfect vegetable on the face of the earth (personal opinion, but true). Actually that is true for most sprouted seeds; nutritionally they are the tops.
It is very important when choosing the seeds that you are buying for planting and the seeds that you are buying for sprouting to make sure that they are high quality seeds and that they are purchased from a reputable seller. It is also very important that you rotate your seeds. Yes, some of the seeds MAY sprout when they get old, but the majority of the seeds will no longer be viable and able to do what they were meant to do when they get too old and I would hate to put the time and resources into something that won’t produce in the end.
And, don’t forget your water!