NFC announces ‘Gian Sunflower’ contest

Can you top this? These Paul Bunyan-like giant sunflowers reached amazing heights last summer. Many growers weren’t sure of the actual height. Their tape measures weren’t long enough.

Submitted by Roy Reiman

Netawaka area growers are vying to see who can grow the tallest sunflower. Can sunflowers actually top 20 feet in height, with blossoms bigger than dinner plates? Members of the Netawaka Fitness Center will know by the end of summer.

Last week, each NFC member was given a free packet of Giant seeds from a hybrid that surprised and amazed Midwest growers last season. And with it, NFC launched its version of the “Sunflower Showdown,” a contest to see who can grow the tallest plant, and win “bragging rights,” plus a free three-month NFC membership prize.

not normal Sunflower seeds

These seeds are from an heirloom hybrid called “Russian Mammoth.” It produces Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-like plants with stalks so sturdy most don’t need stakes for support.

This hybrid isn’t grown by farmers — its thick stalks would shake the header off a combine! These plants are strictly for show, not for dough.

They’re great fun for gardeners. Those who grew them last summer looked up with mouths agape as they watched them tower over backyard fences and astound their neighbors. Some of the plants topped 20 feet in height, with blossoms over a foot wide.

“This should be a fun contest for people in the area,” said Scott Steffes, NFC director. “We’re always looking to add new activities for our members, and to encourage others to visit our facility. Gardening offers good exercise, too, so we decided to hold this tallest sunflower contest. It should be a great conversation topic among our members.”

Non-members can buy seed

Each NFC member was given a free packet of 13 seeds — a “baker’s dozen.” Non-members can are welcome to stop by NFC and buy packets for $5 each. Detailed planting tips are provided with each packet.

As for “rules,” there really aren’t any, Steffes said. “This isn’t a serious contest — it’s for summer fun. So you can add any kind of fertilizer, use any kind of mulch, whatever, to boost your plants sky high. As for the prize, bragging rights might be the most enticing. But to add a little motivation, we’ll give a free three-month NFC membership to the winner.”

One challenge? It may prove to be difficult to measure the height to determine the winner — last year’s growers found the plants out-grew their tape measures!

“We’ve given that some thought, too. We may ask a county FFA chapter help with the judging,” Steffes said. “These giant plants should prove interesting to those students, too. Well get it figured out.”

There’s no big hurry to get the seeds in the ground. These giant plants grow so fast they don’t need a full season and can be planted into early June.

Do sunflowers really turn?

There’s long been a debate about which direction sunflowers face. Some growers say this plant got its name because it “faces the sun all day.” They contend it faces east in the morning, then turns to the west, following the sun through day.

While many gardeners say this is true, many farmers who grow acres of them don’t agree. They say their plants pretty much face east all day long.

So this NFC version of the “Sunflower Showdown” will give contestants the chance to observe and come to their own conclusion… and add something new to their garden.

“Our members know there’s always something happening here at the Center,” Steffes said. “And this Giant sunflower contest is another example. We’re already planning other events to keep things exciting.”


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