Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Field of Sunflowers Captures the Eye and Imagination of Sussex County

A seven- acre stand of black oil sunflowers planted along Route 15 in Sparta, NJ burst into magnificent color late last week- attracting the attention of many passersby who stepped out of their daily routine to drink in the beauty. The blooms are reaching their  peak and will soon begin the process of going to seed.
As the yellow flower petals fade, each head will be filled with hundreds of sunflower seeds, laid out in an equally eye catching circular pattern. This intricate mosaic of matured seed will then be ready for harvest.

Black oil sunflower seed is a "first year" crop for Brodhecker Farm of Newton, who planted and maintains the field. Brodhecker Farm has been a staple of Sussex County agriculture for over forty years. The family credits the sustainability of their farm operation to an ability to assess and respond to market demand. They provide a variety of  products and services that meet the needs of the consumer and farm producer.
Brodhecker Farm began selling black-oil sunflower birdseed at their Hampton Township farm in early spring 2010. Steady sales and a growing demand for the product prompted the Brodheckers to explore the feasibility of putting a local crop into production, which will then be  harvested and marketed under their own label. Producting a Jersey Grown birdseed product is challenging-even to a producer experienced and equipped to harvest other grains. While Brodhecker farm is a NJ licensed livestock feed manufacturer and processes a variety of field crop which is used in their feed formulas, sunflowers pose some unique challenges in the drying and harvesting process.
Initiating a new product which requires specialized equipment, careful harvest and on-site processing is a large undertaking. The Brodheckers have been in consultation on this project with NJ Audubon, who has been developing a similar initiative in other parts of the state over the past several years. " NJ Audubon has shared valuable "lessons learned" from their experiences," said Phil Brodhecker "we look forward to building on our relationship with them in the future." Currently, NJ Audubon sells NJ produced black oil sunflower seed under their own S.A.V.E. label. NJAS/S.A.V.E. black oil birdseed is available at NJ Audubon centers throughout the state. Check with your local NJ Audubon center for availability.

The Brodheckers have dedicated two seven-acre fields to sunflower seed production. If all goes well, they hope to harvest, dry and package the black-oil seeds under the Brodhecker label and will sell the Jersey Grown, locally produced seed at their farm later this year.

But for now families, photographers and the "battle weary" travelers along the Rt 15 corridor are finding the sunflower stand a welcome and joyful break in their day. One spectator commented, "Whoever planted this field must have known how happy it would make people to see these beautiful flowers. We can all use a little break now and again, this is just amazing- thank you to our Sussex County farmers."

While children delight in the height, color and seemingly endless rows of flowers and photographers snap away, many folks just simply stand still for a time and smile. As they gaze out over the seven acre field-drinking in the intense greens and yellows brought to life by the constant movement of busy honey bees they are reminded to take a moment... just to enjoy.

    Article and  photos by N Hreha 


Dot said...

We drove along route 15 from Augusta today (7/30) & never saw the sunflowers. Any idea for an approx mile marker? Are they still there this year (2011)?
Thanks in advance.

dandelion said...

Hi Dot-
Sunflowers are gracing the Sussex County landscape in several locations. Brodhecker Farm has a seven acre stand in full bloom at the farm (2 Branchville-Lawson Road). If you missed that spectacular showing, not to worry- an seven acre encore and a 10 acre encore are looking good for late August.
An early season crop disaster pushed back the peak bloom for these fields by a few weeks. Hopefully, with the cooperation of Mother Nature, we'll be gazing in amazement as these fields burst into color very soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dandelion,

Are the sunflowers still in full bloom? I would love to get some pictures in this field. Thank you :)

dandelion said...

Thanks for your question. Sunflowers go through many phases before they are ready for harvest. Generally planted in early June, the lush green plants spend the early summer months growing and preparing for the spectacular display of yellow blooms which follow in July/August.
The blooms last about two to three weeks. Once pollination has occurred, the plant begins making seed. The seeds are harvested in the fall-late September/October.
This is an exceptional year because of the hurricane and unusually wet weather. Harvest will most likely be delayed as farmers hope the fields will dry sufficiently to bring in the harvest equipment. has a beautiful gallery of sunflower photos online-some showing the progressive lifecycle of the fields. While we'd say there are still many great photo opportunities in the fields (texture, wildlife etc) you'll have to stay tuned for next year's peak bloom photo op. We'll keep you posted with a sunflower photo alert on
Thanks for your question. Check out the Harvest Video after viewing the Virtual Gallery.