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.