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The Buzz on Sunflower Season in Sonoma Valley

Get seeds, plant sunflowers by June 30 and help Cittaslow Pollinator Pals bring the Great Sunflower Project to Sonoma Valley this August.

It’s not just the bees that are a’ buzzin’ in Craig Scarborough’s backyard vineyard in Glen Ellen these days. Scarborough's skill saw is also buzzing as it cuts 30 donated wine barrels into the 60 half-barrel planters that will soon be the focal points of a.

By early September they will be in place, full of yellow and black sunflowers, at 20 sites from Oakmont to Carneros, drawing attention to the importance of pollinators to food crops and daily diet, in a project sponsored by Cittaslow (literally, slow city).

“For the past two years our Pollinator Pals team has worked to educate valley residents about bees and other pollinators," said Alana Coburn, one of the project’s co-chairs. "We have put on workshops and trainings, sold honey ice cream, and even featured performances by our own local bee dancers."

This year, as one of several activities focusing on bees, Pollinator Pals is partnering with The Great Sunflower Project, a 4-year-old "backyard bee count" initiated and led by scientists at San Francisco State University. (See attached PDF for instructions.)

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Barrels full of sunflowers will be placed at key locations to promote awareness of the importance of bees to the ecosystem, Coburn told us. The sites will also be the locations for the project’s late-season bee counts that will occur in September, when Lemon Queen sunflowers bloom most profusely.

Lemon Queen sunflower seeds are  available free to backyard gardeners who request them, according to the Polinator Pals. Move fast, though, because there is a limited supply and they should be planted before June 30. Email TheBuzz@CittaslowUSA.org for more information.

“Sunflowers and late blooming plants are very important to the bees,” says Shelley Arrowsmith, a local beekeeper and one of the organizers of the project. “Once the blackberry bloom is over in June, there is very little native forage for bees in Sonoma Valley.

"That is when the sunflowers and other late blooming plants in private gardens become vital to the survival of many species of pollinators."

The project is already up and running. Over a dozen volunteers from all over the valley meet weekly. All of the project’s 30 wine barrels have been donated, as have the 200 five-gallon pots needed for planting and the raw materials for innovative, low-tech watering systems that will be used at each site.

The project’s sunflower seeds are germinating in a greenhouse at Arrowsmith Farms in East Schellville, and will soon be moved to shade-houses at Sonoma Ecology Center’s Garden Park on 7th Street East in Sonoma. There they will grow and mature until transferred to display sites around the valley.

“So far the project has been a classic grass roots effort, which is typical of a Cittaslow project,” said Sonoma Valley founder, Virginia Hubbell. “Building community through volunteerism, a concern for the food chain, and working sustainably through re-use and recycling, are all part of the ethic that is promoted by Cittaslow.”

The Great Sunflower Project’s public activities will be held through September. In addition to the sunflower displays and local bee counts, the Pollinator Pals will also have a booth at the , where they will once again feature Cittaslow Honey Ice Cream. This delicious ice cream is custom made by Three Twins Ice Cream from locally sourced organic dairy products.

If you are interested in learning more, or want to join the Cittaslow Pollinator Pals Garden Group, email TheBuzz@CittaslowUSA.org

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