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An early morning field of tall heads and haloed faces standing together, slowly unfold their bright coronas of golden yellow petals. Summer is here, and so are the beautiful endless horizons of Sunflowers. These young blooming faces move to reverently follow the first rays till the last light of their namesake across the sky.

In a field of immature sunflowers, there are conspicuous lines of early opening males which are flanked by eight to ten rows of females to either side. The proud ranks of males are now producing pollen. In the coming weeks, these rows of ladies are due to bloom bright yellow. It is no wonder this flower is considered a symbol of longevity, adoration and loyalty.

Even ancient Greek Mythology describes the sunflower as the embodiment of a young water nymph named Clytie, who fell deeply in unrequited love with Helios, the original God of the sun.

Each bud’s face pursues the sun’s arc across the sky, always saluting the daily rays. The process is  known as “heliotropism.” This causes the plant to have elongated cells on the farthest side from the light. It is driven by kind of hydraulic-like fluid changes inside the stalk, at the base of the bud, during the day. As the plant matures and the flower blooms opens entirely, the stalk becomes rigid and no longer moves.

The sunflower’s name, in the Spanish language Girasol as well as French Tournesol, means “turning with the sun.” The plant is native to North America and was cultivated, in what we now call the Midwest, by Native Americans about 3,000 B.C. It is possible that it was domesticated even before corn.

 

Muller Ranch in Woodland is among the first to grow sunflowers commercially in Yolo County, starting some 30 years ago. Colin T. Muller is a third generation innovator, beekeeper and grower for the ongoing cycles of sunflower fields.

“We have been anticipating and celebrating sunflowers for some time, and they have been attracting more than songbirds, butterflies and bees,” Muller says. 

He says that sunflowers from Yolo county are highly sought after around the globe for their seeds’ consistent quality.

“This area is great for producing seed crops, end users come all the way here, buyers [from Hungary and the Ukraine] looking for seed from Yolo County.” Says Colin T. Muller. 

Richard Rominger of Winters has high praise for Yolo’s world class seed crop.

“It [Yolo county] has good soil, good climate and no rains in the summer to cause mold,” says Rominger. He is one of the first of many local long-standing family farms to grow sunflowers for seed.

 

“Farmers contract with local seed company. The seed company sells them all over the world and in Midwestern states” says Rominger.

Yolo county crops have world renowned fame for the consistent seeds exported around the globe. The seeds are grown for nutritive oil, and bought by Argentina, Russia and Eastern Europe.

Because they mature in about 30 days or less and generate more revenue per acre than other conventional grains, sunflowers are considered a high-value crop. According to the 2016 Agricultural Crop Report, the sunny seed was valued at $1643 per acre, and has steadily grown in value for decades.

Careful field rotation, bee pollination, staggering bloom fields, diligently hauling out males before they become viable and coordinating with other large scale growers (as well as crop neighbors with back yard gardens) is constant and necessary to keep each field, flower and seed from contamination. 

“We’ve been growing sunflowers in a rotation crop every year, but never in the same field, maybe two or three years after,” says Luciana Turkovich, adding, “And you know we talk to neighbors to know what the other is growing. If they grow a type of cucumber for instance, that we are growing at that time, that would interfere with our crop, we would make it up to them.”

“It’s a farming town, you try to work as a team,” Turkovich says.

For safety and liability reasons farming fields are not open to the public. These golden horizons may look like inviting stalks standing still, but up close there are millions of buzzing bees busy with the important work of pollinating.

“Bees are provided by beekeepers, after they finish pollinating the almonds they move over to sunflowers,” says Rominger, adding, “We don’t use pesticides. We don’t need to.”

 

Agri-tourists can attend several events celebrating sunflowers in Yolo area. There are some public and private opportunities to tour the sunflower crops growing up and around town.

Turkovich farms will be hosting several cabanas for guests to their “Sunflower Soirée” on the private winery in Buckeye. For information visit http://turkovichwines.com/event-calender-item/sunflower-soiree/.

Woodland’s Sunflower Weekends will begin on Saturday, June 30 and Saturday, July 14. Tickets are at https://visityolo.com/blogyolo/sunflower-weekend/.

 

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