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Montana Ag Network: Sunflower farming in Craig

Raina Blackman is the owner/operator of Applestem
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 31, 2022

CRAIG — Sunflowers are one of the oldest crops grown in North America, beginning with the Native Americans more than 4,500 years ago.

Along the Missouri River and Craig Frontage Road sits a few acres of land that are home to 30 species of sunflowers.

Raina Blackman is the owner/operator of Applestem Inc., an agri-entertainment company that has been in the fall season corn maze business for 17 years.

Applestem is in its second season of producing sunflowers for the new annual project called “Sunflower Days.” This year’s turnout wasn’t as successful as they hoped; Blackman believes warmer temperatures didn’t entice people to come visit as often this year.

Growing these flowers have been somewhat of a challenge for Applestem in getting the flowers to bloom on time, specifically the American Giant Sunflower from Wisconsin.

“There's a few catalogs that count a bud as a bloom, so it's 70 days to bud, and that isn't quite what I had in mind. I had hoped it would be in bloom in 70 days so people could enjoy it.”

Each year has been a challenge. Blackman planted for the first time three years ago to get a feel for the crop. Each year has posed new challenges.

Sunflower in Craig

First the cost of seed. Oil sunflower seeds run the cheapest to grow at one dollar per pound. Because she likes variety in her oversized garden, dwarf and polliniferous seeds run at $150 per pound.

Strategically planting the flowers allowing for different-sized blooms.

"The closer you plant the seeds together, the smaller the blooms are,” aid Blackman.

The last hurdle is when the plants bloom themselves. Because it is agriculture, the flower bloom can be unpredictable, and Blackman is getting the hang of that, learning each season.

Applestem Sunflower days ran from August 5-28 and the flowers will be used as livestock feed moving forward.

The farm is getting ready for its next seasonal venture, its Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, which will run from September 17 through October 30.