Monday, October 3, 2011


On 8 September Devin and I rescued the sunflowers from a spell of damp weather, cutting them down and hanging them in the hay barn loft to cure.
Yesterday we brought the heads down to the front porch and began removing the seeds.
While some of the seeds rattled out easily into a collander or big bowl, others had to be pried loose.
Above are seeds from the various dwarf sunflowers.  With the petals curled and dried there was no telling whether the flower had been burgandy, gold or a brown and gold bi-color. 
Interestingly, all had shiny black seeds.

Friends gave me a generous quantity of sunflower seeds in the spring--I had room to plant only a portion.
These are from  the classic grey-striped mammoth sunflower. 
Most of the seeds around the edges of the flower head were well filled out, plump. Nearer the center there were seeds in which the kernals hadn't developed.
I wonder if this was due to the prolonged drought during July and August.

D. and I were fascinated by the intricately formed pockets that held the seeds in place.

D. holds out two of the sunflowers he is shucking.
Who knew that those honeycombed seed heads have tiny spines!
The pads of both my thumbs suffered from these stiff slivers as I popped the seeds free--those that didn't fall out when the sunflower head was tapped against the bowl.
I used a needle and tweezers to remove a number of splinters last evening.
By morning several more were visable.
I worried at one deeply imbedded in my left thumb as I rode this morning with G. to the Sunny Valley Bulk Foods Store.
We stopped first at the greenhouse and produce stand which is part of the complex.
Since a greenhouse seemed a likely place for workers to get splinters I asked one of the Mennonite women clerks if she might have a needle I could borrow to remove a sliver.
"No," she replied, "But I have a straight pin."
She whipped a pin from a fold of her crisp white cap and within a moment I had pried out the deep-set sunflower splinter.

G. slowed the truck so that I could take a picture of this man using a horse-drawn machine to cut sorghum.
I had to aim the camera through the back window--a closer shot was runined when a man on a motor scooter whizzed by.
There is a local sorghum mill that produces and bottles this sweet stuff.

Although we weren't planning to linger, G. pulled in at the produce auction barn for a look at the mums being lined up for sale.

I stayed in the truck for the few moments that G. explored the auction floor.
She came back wondering, "What on earth are those big striped squash looking things?"
They are cushaws--apparently widely grown in the southern Appalachian regions and prepared similarly to winter squash or pumpkin.

At home, I snipped a harvest of herbs, bringing them in as the sun slid behind the woods which mark our western boundary.
Years ago I dried herbs by the time-honored method of hanging them from a nail [or a curtain rod] in the kitchen. I always felt they gathered dust--and a cat hair or two--before I cut them down and crumbled them from the stems.  Last year I placed them on trays and slid them into the oven set to its lowest heat.
Tonight, using that method,  I have dried thyme, sage, spearmint and catnip.
After removing any damaged or yellowed leaves, I rinsed the stalks and whirled them in my salad spinner to remove the moisture, and except for the thyme, pulled the leaves from the main stems and arranged them one layer deep on baking sheets.
I checked the herbs for dryness about every 10 minutes, shuffling them about on the trays.
The catnip dried fast, as did the mint. The heavily textured leaves of sage needed to remain in the oven for more than an hour.  The wiry stems of thyme were fiddley to deal with--I swirled the dried stems around in the bottom of a collander--which allowed the leaves and some of the finer stems to pass through.

As soon as I entered the kitchen with the basket of catnip I was mobbed by felines.
Teasel's performance last year was a reminder that it isn't wise to leave
a tray of catnip unguarded, even for a moment! 

I bought tiny zip-lock plastic bags at the bulk foods store so I can make up packets of herbs
to share with family and friends.
I have more sage to dry as well as marjoram, apple mint and lemon balm---pleasant harvest tasks after the messier and more intensive labor of canning tomatoes and applesauce.


  1. What a good herb harvest, and all those pumpkin seeds. The birds will love your garden this winter. I have dried celery leaves slowly in the oven too - they add a good flavour to soups and stews. Like you, we used to hang bunches of herbs from our beams, but felt the flies landing on them, and dust in the room, didn't make them any more appetising!

  2. You are such an inspiration. Look at all of those wonderful sunflower seeds, and the fresh herbs that you dried. That's fantastic.

    I wonder if there's an easier way for working with the sunflowers. What a pain to get all those little spikes in your fingers.

    Have a great week ~ FlowerLady

  3. I am drying what is left of my herbs. I am also going to try to transplant my Rosemarys.
    I know all about catnip. I don't even get in the door and everyone is hanging off my pant legs, ( I don't wear shorts doing this!) And then the rage is on, with swating, swinging cats in catnip- fueled moods.
    Cushaws are good, enough to feed anarmy. My grandmother used them for pie filling and general baking, with sorghum, which she used quite a bit.
    I love Mennonite and Amish women, always prepared for emergencies.
    Take care, and thank you for sharing your beautiful world.

  4. I really enjoyed our post today. Can you use your seeds in cooking or do you just use them for next years flowers?

  5. Hi,your blog is always so interesting to read,what a good lot of sunflower seeds hope your fingers are ok now,Im going to dry my herbs this week and now I have read how you do yours I will try it,thanks for sharing and thank you for your lovely comments you left me.Love Jill xx

  6. Hello Morning! :) Oooo! I love your kitty header. What beautiful blue eyes. Just wanted to drop by and thank you for your very kind and sweet comments at my blog lately. You are a dear! Thanks so much for your encouragement--it's been a help and I just wanted you to know. Blessings, Debra

  7. BB; I like dried celery leaves in soup, but I don't grow it and the bunches available at the store are mostly stripped of leaves. I keep a supply of celery salt for seasoning.

    FL; Another year I will at least wear leather gloves while knocking out the seeds--unless I can think of a more efficient way.

    Denim; Your description of cats gone mad on catnip was a delight to read this morning. I was grumpy after a night of poor sleep--found myself laughing with pleasure thinking how we cat lovers indulge our felines, even to the point of tolerating their behavior when they are a bit "high."
    Maybe I will try cushaws next season--you make them sound appealing.

    Angie; The sunflower seeds could probably be hulled and used in cooking, but I will keep mine for next years' crop, share some and feed any excess to the birds this winter.

    Jill; Thank you for coming by. I really do think this is the quickest and neatest way to dry herbs. One of the benefits is that my house smells so good today.

    Debra; How nice to hear from you. I have so much enjoyed reading through the ups and downs of your moving process. I hope a lovely cat will be finding its way into your new home!

  8. Loved the photos and the visit this morning! I dried my herbs this year in the microwave with the power set to 20% and in 10 minute increments. Worked very well. It will be nice to cook with them this winter and to share with others...

  9. I sometimes like to guess what a photo is of, before I read the copy below. I looked and looked at your first photo and decided they looked like dead flies!

    But you have been very busy again with your herbs and seeds. Good for you!