Our local sunflower hero

Today’s DomPost features a lovely article about our local hero Julia, the Commonunity Project and Project Sunshine. You can see some of our sunflowers peeking through in the background already!

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Christmas Feast 2013: shiny on the inside!

This week we danced to the sweet tunes of MC Babysteppers, we dipped candles, we ate sweet food cooked by Rachel Priestley, and we face-painted and ate ice cream from CommonSense Organics. We celebrated our Christmas party in style with our hard-working little farmers at Epuni School!

Julia has written a ‘thank you’ list over on our Facebook page here, where you can also see more pictures from the day’s events.

Here are a few other photos from our AWESOME Christmas party:

Rachel Priestley from Prodigal Daughter prepared 25kg of potatoes, 10kg of pork, 16 chickens and fed everyone an incredible meal.

Jacqui and Sue, the green forest angels from CommonSense Organics in Lower Hutt, donated ice cream for each of the children. I’ve never seen ice cream disappear so quickly before!

Sue from SuperVery generously gave us all of these beautiful Winnie-the-Pooh badges that she offered as a koha in return for sunflower seeds. We handed them out to all of the Epuni School children as an early Christmas gift:

Our farmers had sunflowers and other beautiful motifs painted on their faces:

And they dipped candles and made stunning colourful Christmas gifts, which they could take home.

Our feast featured in the DomPost the next day too. Thanks again to everyone who helped make this day super special!

Wishing everyone a very sunshiney Christmas season – we’ll be back in the New Year with more sunflower updates, and hopefully lots more photos that show how everyone’s sunflowers are growing.

What’s the buzz

Here’s the buzz from this week. Keep reading below to see what we’ve been up to!

Our ‘Sunshine Day‘ got a mention in the Hutt News newspaper, thanks to reporter Karoline who joined us for part of the morning. (You can check out more photos from the day here). We’re hoping to do a few more community plantings like this at some point this term, so watch this space for further information.

We’ve posted out many, many envelopes full of sunflower seeds this week. It has been bloomin’ lovely! Please get in touch if you’d like a packet, or if you know someone in New Zealand that would.

We’ve also updated our map – it’s really cool to see the little trail of flowers spreading around the country and we think our little farmers will be really surprised when they come back from the school holiday break and see how far their seeds have been sent.

We’ve been decorating more seed packets – trying to keep up with the demand! It has been fun watching my six-year-old paint these seed packets with watercolour and acrylic paint, and this morning we experimented with some hand-made stamps.

And finally, we want to say a huge sunshiney *thank you* to everyone who has given us financial donations, or other forms of koha this week. We’ll do a separate blogpost about some of the fantastic things that we have received in return for packets of seed, which will all go to the children at Epuni School. And the financial donations mean that we’ve been able to buy lots more stamps, so we can post out more envelopes! We’re a little bit in love with these gorgeous bee stamps, which just go so well with the aims of our project.

Plant straight in the ground? Or in a pot?

You have your packet of beautiful Giant Russian sunflower seeds in your hand. Do you plant them straight in the ground, or should you first sow some seeds in pots?

At Project Sunshine, we do both planting methods, to make sure that we get the best sunflowery results!

Sowing directly in the ground
It’s pretty easy to sow your seeds directly in the ground. Before you plant, you need to make sure you’ve picked a good spot: sunflowers need at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. Once you’ve chosen a good spot, use a trowel and dig a small hole about 3cm deep, and then drop in a seed. Cover the hole again with a blanket of soil and then give it a drink of water.

Sunflowers are like people: they like to be in families and planted close together. Plant your seeds about 20cm apart. Water your seeds regularly, to make sure they don’t dry out – if the soil is kept damp, they should germinate in about 5-10 days.

Something else to bear in mind is that slugs and snails love to nibble on brand new sunflower leaves and stalks, and can quickly wipe out baby sunflower seedlings. To keep snails and slugs at bay you can place snail bait around your seeds (make sure you keep it well away from little people and pets) – otherwise you can always go out at night with a bucket and torch collect any snails that look like they’re heading towards your precious seedlings.

Planting seeds in pots
To ensure a good sunflower harvest, it is also a good idea to plant some seeds into pots. The seedlings can be transferred into the ground later on when they reach about 20cm high. There are several different pots you can choose to use and we’ve listed a few different examples below to give you an idea of the sorts of pots/containers to use. Just make sure that whatever pot you do use is fairly deep, as sunflowers send out a deep tap root. Something like an egg carton would be too shallow, for example, so go for a pot/container that has enough room to allow the sunflower to send down a good, strong root.

Make sure you use potting mix or seed-raising mix as your soil. The soil in pots needs to be light and airy for the plants to grow well. Dirt straight from the garden is too heavy and will clump down in pots. You can buy potting mix fairly cheaply from supermarkets and hardware stores. You can always make your own if you’re interested – here’s a good potting mix recipe.

Plastic pots

Plastic pots are great to use for sowing seeds – and you can use them again and again. Make sure they are nice and clean on the inside before filling them with potting mix. If you have bigger pots then you can sow a couple of seeds to each one. When the plants are big enough (about 20cm high), you’ll need to gently lift them and all of the soil out of the pots, and then plant them in the ground (Don’t plant your plastic pot in the ground!)

Take-away coffee cups

Take-away coffee cups are the perfect size for growing sunflower seedlings. Make sure your coffee cup is nice and clean, and make a small hole in the bottom for drainage (you don’t want your little pot to stay too damp, otherwise the roots will get mouldy). Then fill it with potting mix or seed-raising mix and add your seeds.

If you have a ‘bio’ or ‘eco-friendly’ coffee cup, which is designed to completely break down, then you can plant it straight into the ground when the plant is big enough, as the cardboard will disintegrate and the roots will push through the cardboard. Only do this if your coffee cup is an eco-friendly one though, as many take-away coffee cups have plastic in them, which will not break down in soil.

Peat pots
Peat pots

You can buy peat pots from gardening/hardware stores. I bought 16 from Mitre 10 for $8.00. They’re great because once your seedling is big enough, you can plant it straight in the ground along with the pot. Just make sure you don’t let the soil in them dry out.

Toilet rolls

Toilet rolls are also an inexpensive type of ‘seed starter’. By cutting four slots in a toilet roll, you can fold the flaps on the bottom – as you can see in the photo above. When you have enough toilet rolls, you can place them inside a plastic container, like an icecream container, and then fill each one with potting mix.

Be careful not to over-water the toilet roll planters, as they can get mouldy if they get too wet (update: half the ones I just planted got very mouldy on the outside, so great care needs to be taken when watering them). Because the rolls are made of cardboard, they can also be planted directly into the ground when the plants are big enough as the cardboard will quickly break down.

Folded newspaper containers

You can also make your own inexpensive seed starting containers by folding sheets of newspaper. By googling ‘how to make newspaper seedling pots’, you can find lots of different folding methods. We quite like the method shown in the youtube video below, as it is simple – all you need is a sheet of newspaper and a tall glass (you might need an adult to help you if you’re younger).

When the seedlings are big enough, the newspaper container can also be planted directly into the ground with the seedling, as the newspaper will break down quickly in the soil.