Sunshine Day – Tuesday 1 October

If you’re in Wellington next Tuesday, come and join us during the school holidays for a little bit of sunshine fun with our farmers.

We’re going to plant lots of sunflowers around the neighbourhood! Beautiful environments help create abundance and increase our well-being. Our farmers also get to help their little superhero friends: the bees. We’re going to meet at the Epuni School garden at 10am.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page if the weather looks like it might not be sunshiney. We’ll post an update on Tuesday morning.

Please also get in touch with us if you would like some of our sunflower seeds for community plantings. We welcome any koha that you might be able to offer – and any financial contributions will go towards set-up costs for school beehives.

Thanks to our little farmers too, for their beautiful ‘colouring in’ artwork on our posters xx

What’s the buzz

Here’s a little round-up about some of the sunflowery things that have been happening lately:

We’ve been excited to send several packets of seeds up the Kapiti Coast, thanks to Diane Turner. Diane works at Raumati South School and she sent us this ‘thank you’ photo from the children at the school. They have potted up our Giant Russian sunflower seeds and we love their beautiful seed markers! Diane has also kindly passed on many packets of seed to other schools and early childhood centres around the Kapiti Coast area, and we’re delighted to see a little trail of sunflowers work their way up the coast on our distribution map.

Diane also handed us some red ‘Evening Sun’ sunflower seeds as a koha from the children at Raumati South School. These seeds were initially gifted to the school garden by Kath Irvine of Edible Backyard. ‘Evening Sun’ seeds produce magnificent sunflowers in shades of burnt orange, red and yellow. The children saved the seeds from their flowers and are generously sharing some with us – we can’t wait to plant them and see how they bloom. Thanks again Diane for all of your wonderful sunflowery support!

Some packets of our seed are also winging their way down to Christchurch, to the Pallet Pavilion site in the Christchurch CBD. On this site, sunflowers will beautify the MakerCrate, a shipping container turned into a lab for 3D printing and children’s making workshops. Bridget, who is working with the MakerCrate project, is hoping to get students to plant the sunflower seeds in special planter boxes made out of rescued wood “to liven up the grey and the gravel that is everywhere at the moment.”

Locally, our friends at CommonSense Organics in Lower Hutt have a basket of our seed packets on their counter, and a little jar to collect donations. Please pop in and pick up a pack or two, then email us to let us know where the seeds have ended up – we’d love to hear from you!

Koha and sharing

Here at Project Sunshine not only do we love helping our bees and making our communities beautiful – we love sharing too.

The concept of the sharing table is central to our sister Common Unity project; we often place our homegrown produce on it for people to share. We also invite people from our community to come and share a meal with us. In return, we ask for people to share something special with us – to offer koha.

The children have a saying: “we have two hands: one for giving and one for receiving”. In this way, our children learn that acts of kindness go a long way. They also learn that they have the power to create change and make their environment even more beautiful. The sorts of things that people offer as koha can range from seeds that people have saved, little bits of equipment for the garden, such as containers for planting seed – and on our open days it might be a shared song. All these things are special and help us strengthen our community bonds.

With Project Sunshine, the Epuni School children want to send their sunflower seeds far and wide throughout New Zealand. In return, you might receive an email from us asking for an act of reciprocity, or koha.

We gratefully receive anything that people are willing to share with us. Koha could be a simple self-addressed envelope for us to post seeds to you in, some stamps, a few coins, some seeds of vegetables for the children here to plant in their mandala garden, or perhaps other sunflower seeds that you yourself might have saved and wish to share with the children. Whatever you think is appropriate and useful will go a long way towards helping our project thrive. (Please just drop us a line via email if you wish to make a larger financial contribution.)

Through simple actions, such as sharing and kindness, our children have the power to grow and make amazing changes to our world. Please help us take this message to the rest of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The bee’s knees

When we first started Project Sunshine, the children who planted sunflowers noticed that the golden flowers attracted lots of bees. Their discovery then led to many discussions about the importance of bees and what we can all do to encourage them in our neighbourhood gardens.

‘Helping the bees’ is now an important part of Project Sunshine. We appreciate the important work they do and want to teach others about the world’s most important pollinator too!

Here are fascinating bee facts:

  • About one third of everything we eat is pollinated by bees. Many of our crops would not be viable without bee pollination. Both honeybees and bumblebees are important pollinating insects.
  • Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years.
  • Honey bees transform nectar, a sweet substance secreted by flowers, into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation. They store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive.
  • To make honey, bees drop the collected nectar into the honeycomb and then evaporate it by fanning their wings.
  • There are three types of bees in the hive: queen, worker and drone.
  • Workers live about 45 days in the summer, while drones are driven out of the hive in Autumn. Queen bees can live for up to five years.
  • The queen may lay 1,500 or more eggs each day during her lifetime. This daily egg production may equal her own body weight. She is constantly fed and groomed by attendant worker bees.
  • A bee’s wings beat 190 times a second, that’s 11,400 times a minute – this creates their distinctive buzz.
  • Honey bees are the only bees that die after they sting.
  • Honey bees have five eyes: three small ones on top of the head and two big ones in front.
  • Bees communicate with each other by dancing and using pheromones (scents).

Over recent decades there has been a noticeable decrease in worldwide bee populations. In some places in the world, bees are simply disappearing. This is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. There are many different theories as to why this is occurring, but we do know there are a few things we can do to support bees, and they are simple:

  • Stop the use of pesticide sprays in our gardens. They not only kill bees, but also disorientate them, making it hard for them to return to their hives.
  • Plant plenty of food for them. Bees need flowers to forage, all year round. Flowers are not only great for bees but they make us feel good too! Click here to see a great list of other bee friendly flowers you can plant. 
  • Respect them. Our little friends the bees should not be feared. Once we appreciate the important work they do for us and how much we rely on them, the bees will be much better off. And so will we!

Adventures in Wellington

On Tuesday, our Project Sunshine team visited Wellington Zoo, as part of the Bush Builder programme that we previously mentioned here. As well as delivering a hand-knitted blanket to the chimpanzees, our farmers took a tray of sunflower seedlings and some seeds. It was a special visit for the children and they were really proud to present the zoo with their seedlings.

After the zoo, our sunshine bus stopped at Carrara Park in Newtown, much to the children’s joy. There we met Shane and Simon, who are City Gardeners from Wellington City Council. Carrara Park is about to have a new community garden built in it – a special spot tucked away in a neighbourhood that will really take care of it. The children were allowed to plant anywhere they wanted to in the park, so each child selected a spot to plant a whole family of sunflower seeds. We also planted some two-week-old sunflower seedlings in a stand together with some swan plants, which should flower before Christmas.

We also gave several hundred of our children’s sunflower seeds to Shane, so that he can plant them around some of the central gardens that he works in the city. He planted some of these on Wednesday in a cool new planting in Glover Park, in Ghuznee Street. They have been planted along with wildflowers, fruit trees and other delicious edible plants. Magic!

Some sunflower seed growing tips & tricks

In Spring, plant your sunflower seeds into pots filled with potting mix. We ask that you do this around the week of Halloween (which is October 31st) so that our flowers bloom around New Zealand all at the same time. A good way to plant them is to press your forefinger into the soil, and then drop the seed into the hole that it leaves – not too shallow and not too deep. Then sprinkle a light blanket of potting mix overtop.

Once potted, keep your seeds damp. Don’t let them dry out or they won’t germinate. They will pop up out of the soil in about 10 days if they are keep warm and damp. Keep watering and start feeding them some organic fertiliser if you want to – sunflowers love food and this great start to life will ensure big, strong plants.

When the seedlings are about 20cm tall, you can take them out of the pots and plant them in the ground. Ask your friends, family or school to get involved as this is can be a fun community event.

If you want to plant the flowers down your street, it’s a really good idea to knock on doors and tell people why you are doing it – it’s a great way to say hi to your community! We’ve previously done flyer drops to mailboxes beforehand to let locals know we are coming.

Your sunflower plants will need a thick layer of compost and mulch to keep them from drying out. They may need to be staked as wind is not kind to them. It is also important to keep up frequent watering, so that after about 12 weeks you can see the magnificent sight of your sunflowers beginning to peep open.

When the sunflowers have finished flowering, they will bow their heads and look tired. They bow their heads to protect their seed from the wind. As you watch the seed slowly turn brown over the weeks, you will notice the birds getting interested in them too! It is then time to cut the heads and store them some place very dry so that they can totally dry out, before you store them away for next year. 

Remember to leave some for the birds to eat! 

And please remember to send us photos of your beautiful sunflowers to projectsunshineaotearoa(at)gmail(dot)com, or post them on our Facebook page, for everyone to enjoy.