HOW TO SCHEDULE SEED STARTING
In high summer, you don't have much time to think, correct? With markets, harvesting, weeding, watering and fertilizing, it's difficult to even think correctly about the task at hand, much less thinking about how to ensure you have sunflowers three months from now.
Take seed starting for example: I used to have an Excel spreadsheet that listed out what I needed to sow every day, what needed to be transplanted by the day, and what day I would expect to harvest. I was so proud of that spreadsheet!
Only one problem: With having it so detailed by the day, there was no wiggle room. When (inevitably) I would miss a day, then it would throw the entire schedule off and I would struggle to reschedule things.
My problem? I was overthinking everything. It was too detailed for what I needed, and a much more simplified approach was needed. As soon as I figured out how to create a more simplified approach, life (and seed starting) got a lot easier.
THINK IN TERMS OF MONTHS
Here's the key: you have to think in intervals of 30 days, basically. Everything is in multiples of 30 (one month) so you can estimate easily from there.
Take for example, the days of maturity of 55 days for a Procut sunflower, which rounds up to around 60 days
60 days = 30 days x 2, so two months
90 days = 3 x 30
120 days = 4 x 30
You can just count backwards using the estimated days to maturity to find out when you need to start seeds.
Another example would be snapdragons that take 120 days to bloom - so 30 x 4 = 120, meaning it will take 4 months from seed to bloom.
THINK IN PROPORTIONS OF A YEAR
One of the other ways that I like using this is to compare it to the year as a whole - this helps to impress upon just how long it takes to grow them out.
Zinnias = 60 days or ⅙ of the year
Celosia = 90 days or ¼ of the year
Snapdragons = 120 days or ⅓ of the year
Lisianthus = 140-150 days or a little less than 1/2 of the year (!)
THINK OF IT IN TERMS OF YOUR GROWING SEASON
If you look at it in terms of your growing season as well, it makes it much easier to keep track of.
In Albuquerque, we have around 200 frost-free days, so everything should be in proportion to our growing period
A Procut sunflower that takes 60 days to reach maturity means that we can do around 3 rounds of sunflowers in the area back-to-back (180 days)
We can only realistically do one crop of snapdragons or celosia in the area as well due to the length of time required and the conditions required for growing well.
Now, if you are able to start seeds earlier, extend your season both forwards and backwards with frost cloth and low hoops, or provide other means of protection, then you can stretch your growing period out a lot longer - maybe 230 to 260 days in our case if you add a month or two on either end.
Now, you can squeeze more like 4 successions of sunflowers in. And if it’s cold hardy, like snapdragons, you can now squeeze two successions in.
This of course, doesn’t take into account the fall planting method made popular by Lisa Mason Ziegler’s “Cool Flowers” approach - where you plant your hardy annuals in the fall and let them overwinter. When fall planted, they also bloom much earlier than spring planted varieties (since they’re already established) so that also bumps up your season considerably as well.
BUT UNFORTUNATELY, NOT EVERYTHING IS SO SIMPLE
Even with protection and covering, and even with careful planning, sometimes things don't work out perfectly. We're lucky that here in New Mexico we get something like 300 days of sun - but not everyone is so lucky, such as in the Pacific Northwest. You may have long delays in your production and harvest due to a large amount of cloudy days.
At the beginning and end of the season when hours of light and heat is fading, plants may be very slow to grow, so it may be a struggle to get that last crop of sunflowers to bloom. We've had times where we've hedged our bets wrong, and frost has come before we can get one last harvest. Sometimes however, we also get lucky and get a few weeks frost-free that allows us to squeeze one last harvest. It's always a gamble, but one that sometimes pays off!