Sunflower Mystery

We have had trouble with sunflowers since the beginning. It started with chipmunks digging up the seeds and seedlings back in June. We thought we had it covered by using putting mini-cages around each seedling, figuring that by the time the plants grew taller than the cages, they would be too big for a chipmunk to dig up, and the seed would be long gone anyway.

Well, I guess that is technically true. I don't think chipmunks are after our sunflowers any more. But something else is:

As soon as the plant reached above the cage, something else came by and mowed it down. This is just one example of the fate of many of our sunflowers. This happened before the plants were anywhere close to producing a seed or flower, so something just wanted the leaves. 

Our mystery predator also bent one over to get leaves that were too high to reach (we assume):

We have seen a groundhog (sigh), and it has eaten some of our zucchini and a lot of our parsnip leaves (better those than the nearby peppers and tomatoes, I suppose — at least they have a shot of growing new leaves and plumping up before winter with their super-long growing season). I have also read in some online forums about groundhogs doing this very thing: felling sunflower stems like a beaver to get the rest of the leaves.

Ok, fine. Then what the hell happened here?

This one has leaves chewed all the way to the top. This is about four to five feet high, and I'm pretty sure our big, fat groundhog is not limber enough to manage climbing up the stalk at all, much less doing so without damaging it. I have also read reports of squirrels shimmying up the stalks to eat the seed heads, but the young flower here is untouched. And I don't think the squirrel would have much interest in the leaves (although with our dry weather, a thirsty squirrel might be desperate for anything). 

Out of the 18 or 19 sunflowers we (repeatedly) planted, we have five left that are starting to form a flower. Most are still small and alien-like:

But just this morning (after a much-needed half inch of rain last night), I saw that one is starting to go gold:


Soon after these open (if they live that long), I'll get out there and bag them so the birds and whatever else can't get the seeds. Maybe, just maybe, we'll have some seeds left for the humans who live here.

Last year was the year of construction; this year is the inaugural year of planting. Next year will be the year of fortification. But for now, we're out of cash (and a little out of steam) for any major new projects. We'll just have to hope for the best with whatever we can slap together for the rest of the season to keep our invaders at bay. 


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