Gardening

A call to plant solidarity sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine

I have learned there is only so much room for politics when it comes to writing about our hobby. Come to really think on it, perhaps I really haven’t.

In any case, if there is a reason to mix the two, it better be a good one. Dealing with climate change comes to mind. So does the illogical use of harmful chemicals. Planting an extra row for someone who is hungry and Earth’s loss of soil are right up there too. Big issues make for the exception to the no-politics-in-gardening rule.

The fact of the matter is it’s often difficult to filter politics out of the gardening equation. Take all of the issues above as examples. As if they are not enough, there is the horrible situation in Ukraine.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that today we decided to plant our sunflowers, Helianthus — or “sunyashnikiis” in Ukrainian. The national flower of Ukraine and ironically enough known as the peace flower, sunflowers became the symbol of resistance and support, dresses, scarves, screensavers. Woke? You bet.

It is a little too early to start sunflowers in Alaska. There are two more months of night frosts, and I would rather plant them later so they don’t have to be staked or transplanted into larger containers while indoors.

Still, in my opinion gardeners the whole world over should be growing sunflowers in solidarity with the millions upon millions of Ukrainian gardeners who won’t be able to do so this year. So, we started our sunflowers this week.

All gardeners need to recognize that as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, access to a significant portion of the world’s potash, a key essential plant nutrient — the middle number in the trilogy on all fertilizer labels — is now cut off. So is a huge chunk of the world’s urea fertilizer made from natural gas. The price of food is going to go way up because Big Ag is so dependent on these urea and potash supplies.

Fortunately, organic gardeners don’t need these chemicals, so if ever there was another reason to go organic, this should be it — I bet Putin didn’t expect to turn the world toward organics! And while some sunflower seeds can be eaten, you are going to want to do more. Again, you have a big reason to grow at least some of your own food this year. And fortunately organic gardeners share so Plant a Row For The Hungry this year.

Add not wasting fuel, which is also going to go up in price. Perhaps this will push more of us toward converting to Mower and Blower Savings Time this summer and skipping a few 2-cycle engine yard sessions.

Ah, but I stray. While gardeners can help reduce how much world leaders need to worry about surging food and fuel costs, there are those solidarity sunflowers to plant. Fortunately, few plants are easier to grow. Those occasional seeds dropped by birds around winter feeders sprout by themselves when warmer weather comes around. All you have to do is drop one or three seeds into damp potting soil in a four- to six-inch container — yogurt containers are great. You don’t even need to remove the shell.

There are several types of sunflowers. The “Ukrainian” type are the tall plants with big flowers on single stalks that result in your bird feed or can be eaten by gardeners. I think these are the ones to plant, but there are bush types with much smaller flowers and lots of branches, and even cutting types for displays in vases. There is a particularly good article at garden.org which explains the types and even includes a list of variety names.

Alas, in times of war there are always symbols of solidarity and grief. Yellow ribbons around trees, Blue Stars in windows. Unfortunately, I am sure you get the idea. This spring it should be sunflowers out by the mailbox, no matter when you start them.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

The 2022 State Alaska Master Gardeners Conference: April 2, 2022 at Evangelo’s Restaurant, 2530 Parks Highway, Wasilla. For a list of speakers and registration information go to www.matsumastergardener.com

Flowers to start from seed: Rhodochiton (15 days to germinate), Fibrous Begonia (15 days to germinate, don’t cover seed), Dahlias (seed dahlias, not tubers)

Herbs to start from seed: Sage

Vegetables to start from seed: Celery, leeks

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He's authored several books on organic gardening; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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