Saving sunflower seeds

P1040129Autumn once again, and various seed heads are air-drying slowly in the back shed. Among these, and the largest by volume, are the tubs of dried sunflower heads of three different varieties. Separating the seeds from the heads and storing them was the task for the Anzac Day public holiday on the 25th April.

The trick with this abundance of seed will be to filter out the biggest and best seeds to carry on the line, so I am expecting a significant amount of wastage.

P1050021Wastage? Another advantage of owning chickens is that very little is wasted; the gleanings from this process will be spilled onto the ground as I winnow the seed outside in the wind and where the chooks will snap it up; sunflower seeds are rich in oils and energy. Normally we would purchase in a fair amount of this seed from the local grain store, but this year the sunflower harvest has picked up as the result of more prodigious sowing of garden beds to ‘clucker tucker’.

P1040734The sunflowers are left on the plant until they have filled in their seed head completely and dried off. This is a dangerous time for the crop as birds will alight on any upturned heads and pick out the seeds. Fortunately, nature has found a trick to prevent this; the sunflower heads turn over and face the ground as they dry off. So the real danger is that I fail to harvest these heads (by snipping them off with secateurs) before the seeds start to fall out onto the soil and become lost to me.











A month later and all the colour has disappeared from the seed heads. The seeds can be seen clearly once the last of the flower parts are rubbed away from their face.


P1050003The simplest and gentlest way to release the sunflower seeds from their casing is to don a pair of heavy leather cloves and rub the heads over a tub placed to catch the seed that is dislodged. I started this way as usual, but after the first boxful decided that some innovation was needed for the remaining four cartons of seed heads. So I turned on the shredder and dumped them though that.

P1050017Separating the seeds from the debris is the hardest bit of the operation and about the point where I wish I had a wider range of sieves to help me. But the job gets done using a simple plastic sieve purchased from the local hardware store; this has a 6mm square hole pattern in a sturdy circular shape. If I can, I’ll stand outside at the corner of the shed where the slightest breeze is amplified and helps blow off some of the finer bits of stalk and dried petals. If I keep the whole arrangement over the wheelbarrow I find I can move the operation around to best suit the process step while catching any spillage prior to the final filtering.

P1050023Sunflower seeds are largest at the periphery of the seed head and get smaller as they spiral their way inwards to the centre of the bloom. Panning the whole mix with the sieve at a small slope stratifies the heavier seed from the lighter debris, allowing me to pick off the latter by hand and toss it onto the compost heap. The heavier seed is sieved further – this time where the hens will find it – so that the smaller seed falls to the ground and only the biggest and plumpest seeds remain to go into the seed collection tins.


Because I’ll be the customer for these tinned seeds next Spring I don’t get too fussy about picking out any remaining litter; this will get thrown into the seed trench anyway and do no harm. And because this debris has been thoroughly air-died it should not go mouldy in the storage tins where it would wreck my seed harvesting efforts.

After the fire storm – nature returns

The fire storm in January 2014 that destroyed ‘Pine Hut Knob’ damaged or killed giant River Red Gums (Eucalytus Camaldulensus) that had stood in the creek bed for some hundreds of years.


Yet life returns, thanks especially to a slow gentle rain that fell steadily for nearly 24 hours three weeks later.

P1040990With the winter vegetable plantings in good shape by my Easter deadline, the family crossed the ranges on Easter Saturday to inspect the property and to sit around the campfire for a couple of nights spinning yarns.

The hillsides are tinged green by the returning grasses and small flowering plants. Ants are busy breeding up, the occasional kangaroo can be spotted feeding off in the distance and birdlife from rosellas, wedge-tailed eagles, cockatoos and galahs to thornbills and Australian pipits can be spotted as usual.

P1040959There’s no hope for the shed and the old Land Cruiser, but I like the orange rust colour of the wreckage; I’ll just leave it there for the grandchildren to play on someday. Restoring the old girl has been crossed off my bucket list should I ever retire.

Many trees planted over so many years with such effort are inexorably gone, yet all around one finds tiny bursts of life at the base or at the very top of seemingly ruined trees; Australian native trees have evolved to survive fire thanks to 50,000 years of Aboriginal 'fire-stick farming’ practices.











Ironically, the fire has returned much needed potash and nutrients to the soil as drifts of leaves and ash caught by the wind and shifted into the drainage gullies.

P1040918Now, If only I’d had some native tree seedlings on my seed table instead of leek, turnips, beetroot and all that other stuff – I’d have been able to plant them out to take advantage of the changed conditions and the coming autumn rains.

Time to re-join Trees for Life, I reckon…

Transplanting garlic

The second year after planting a new garlic crop from purchased garlic bulbs is easier than the first; one can transplant garlic that has escaped harvest.


Heck, lots of garlic bulbs escaped harvest this past summer; chicken-shed building took over the agenda and I never did get around to digging at least two rows of Shantung and Monaro Purple garlic.

P1040834Luckily for me, Mother Nature was back-stopping my gardening failures and these full bulbs have sprung back to life and popped up with perfect timing. I gave the rows a good soaking then lifted these clumps of garlic with the shovel. As soon as they come out and the surplus soil has been gently brushed off they go into a tub of rainwater laced with Seasol, a seaweed solution that lacks nitrogen and phosphorous but helps the bulbs survive the transplant shock (or so I’m told by my friendly garlic expert mate).


P1040863Transplanted garlic is planted in the same way as onion seedlings; the individual plants are gently pulled apart to separate their root systems. They are then laid one-and-a-half bulb diameters apart up against the wall of pre-hoed trenches. The loose trench walls are pushed back over the roots and bulbs to cover them then patted down. It doesn’t matter that the garlic plants are now lying somewhat sideways; they will straighten up as they chase the light.

P1040869I like garlic – its  easy to grow and is easily our most valuable crop by weight; the price of garlic rises at certain times of the year to as much as $40 per kilogram. Its quick to plant, stores well and makes the cook happy when there’s a good stock of it up at the kitchen. Several hundred bulbs have been planted out in a single morning. These will be ready for harvesting mid-summer (around Christmas time in southern Australia).

Best of all, one need not keep buying or holding back harvested garlic bulbs; just leave some of the crop in the soil for transplanting the following year. Quick and cheap!