Changing Sunflower Seeding Systems

I made a change to our sunflower seeding system this year, from three Earthway seeders ganged together to a 3-hopper Cole tractor-mounted seeder. As someone who does not gravitate towards mechanization or equipment, this was a big step for me! I thought I’d share our two seeding systems and how they worked for us.

A little overview of our process: All our sunflowers are direct seeded in a triple row bed, every 10 days from April 1 to August 25. Sometimes the first and last seedings are omitted due to soil conditions, but otherwise I try very hard to stay on this schedule. I am considering tinkering with timing as we approach and move away from the summer solstice to assist in continuous bloom because sometimes our successions merge in July due to rapid pre-solstice (long day) growth.

We currently grow ‘Premier Orange’ before the solstice, ‘Vincent’s Choice DMR’ all season, and ‘Procut Orange DMR’ all season. DMR stands for Downy Mildew Resistant. For those of us who struggle with downy in our soils, this is the only way to reliably grow sunflowers.

We do not weed our sunflowers; they grow fast enough to outcompete weeds about 90% of the time. I do use a walk-behind rototiller to till the pathways on occasion when weeds are germinating quickly.

Lots of people transplant sunflowers or use other seeders. I’d love to hear from you on how you like your system!

EarthWay: This is a very easy-to-use, inexpensive seeder. I bolted three units together with angle iron at 9” spacing. I use either the corn or popcorn plates, depending on seed variety. I have a friend also using the beet plate successfully. This system worked great for me for many years. I would string out rows with stakes and stringline (because I can’t walk that straight!), and then push the seeder along the string. Our aisle spacing is just wide enough to get my BCS tiller down. For me, this was 63” on center for bed spacing. In wet soil conditions, the EarthWay can collect soil and seeds can get stuck. Pay close attention to each hopper as you walk. Sometimes the belt jumps off the seeder, too, if debris gets stuck in it. I found that it can be hard to get good seed depth if the soil wasn’t prepped just right. A flock of birds knew just when to follow me as I seeded, and I did have considerable loss due to birds eating the seed.

Cole: This is the same style as the old Cole Planet Junior seeder. I ordered mine from our local equipment dealer, and the cost was about $6,000 for the three seeders plus a tool bar. It took me a while to become comfortable with the adjustments on it; I did not feel the instructions were clear to someone who knows little about seeders. However, I can now say that I love it! Instead of stringing and staking, I now just follow my tractor tire marks from the previous row. This seeder can also collect debris, and I have to pay very close attention behind me. If that happens, I simply lift the tool bar and set it back down. I tinkered with the depth a bit, and now seed deeper than I was able to with the EarthWay. Germination is about one day slower, but my percent germination is much higher.

I seed 1000-1600 bed feet (all triple row beds) every ten days. Soil prep time remains the same for both systems, but I’ve shaved about 2 hours off my seeding time using the tractor-mounted seeder. It can be exhausting work pushing the three EarthWays down 300-350’ beds. I can seed the same area in about 10 minutes with my tractor, plus about 5 minutes switching implements. While this switch took me most of the season to get used to, it is really working great for our scale. I am thankful I took this step!

Michelle Elston

Roots Cut Flower Farm

Contact her at [email protected]