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To Every Field There Is a Season

Sunday, January 1, 2023
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

I’ve always thought of sunflower as the most “human-like” of crops.  It begins as a small seed . . . breaks out of its womb of soil . . . shows its face to the world . . . gains its “growing legs” . . . gathers more height and strength . . . enters its pre-flowering “teen-age” phase . . . and then blossoms into the fullness of adulthood. 
        After that comes the gradual maturing process wherein its facial seeds fill out  . . . followed by appendages and posture starting to droop.  Colors change, leaves and stalks show their age — and eventually that vibrant mid-bloom look morphs into brown and brittle.  But, like the persistent spirit of an elderly person, the plant’s ultimate value remains intact until harvest in the form of its yet-to-reaped fruit, the seeds.
        I’ve long thought it would be fun to take photos of one specific field of sunflower throughout several phases of development.  And, in 2022, I finally got around to doing just that.
        The field pictured on these pages belongs to Jon Aakre, who farms in western Minnesota at the intersection of Clay, Becker and Otter Tail Counties.  This field was in wheat in 2021, with a cover crop mix of radish, turnip, oats, hairy vetch and clover being sown following the wheat harvest.
        I managed to swing by this field several times during the 2022 crop year.  Unfortunately, I?didn’t make it out there prior to or during the harvest.  So I must “make do” with a photo of Jon taken during the 2021 harvest across the road.
        Here’s a short guide, by date snapped, to these 2022 Aakre field photos:

        1.  Taken on May 23, this one shows the strip-tilled cover crop after planting and prior to sunflower emergence.
        2.  The ’flowers are up and taking off by June 6.  Lots of residue from the prior year and from the killed cover crop.
        3.  It’s June 28, and the field’s sunflower plant canopy is filling in very well.
        4.  July 13 is on the calendar, and these bud-stage plants are the picture of health.
        5.  Heads are opening by the time of this July 23 image.
        6.  It’s August 1, and a beautiful blooming sunflower field greets the visitor.
        7.  August 25, and the heads are drooping as their seeds fill.
        8.  It’s September 6, and the crop progresses satisfactorily toward maturity.
        9.  Here’s Jon harvesting ’flowers in the fall of 2021. ?This field was just across the road from its 2022 cousin.
        10.  It’s the 5th of October, and the crop is in the bin.  The stalks will stand through the winter.  Another successful season concludes; the cycle is complete. — Don Lilleboe

1 - strip till cover crop
Photo #1
2 - beginning crop
Photo #2
3 - sf canopy filling in
Photo #3
4 - bud stage plant
Photo #4
5 - heads are opening
Photo #5
6 - sf blooming field
Photo #6
7 - drooping heads
Photo #7
8 - crop progressing
Photo #8
9 - harvesting flowers
Photo #9
10 - stalks in field
Photo #10
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