This year wasn’t ideal for growing much of anything in our garden. The rain drownd just about everything except the corn my daughter planted in my flower bed (of course, that grew vigorously) and the sunflowers we planted on the edge of the garden.
Now, we find ourselves patiently awaiting our first sunflower seed harvest. I never really considered how different the process would be from a typical vegetable.
Knowing when it’s time to harvest sunflower seeds
Apparently, patience is paramount to sunflower seed harvests.
Leave the sunflower alone if:
- most of the petals are still attached.
- the back — calyx — is still green.
- the seeds are still white and immature.
Signs the sunflower is ready for harvest:
- The seeds are plump, developed and black and white striped.
- The flower petals have dried and fallen off.
- The back of the sunflower has turned from green to brown or yellow.
- The foliage has turned yellow.
While you’re waiting for your sunflowers to mature enough to harvest, make sure you protect them from critters. Birds and squirrels like sunflower seeds too.
Once you notice the petals wilting, cover the heads of your sunflowers with fine netting, perforated plastic bags, cheesecloth or paper bags so the seeds are more difficult to retrieve.
Harvesting sunflower seeds
Harvesting sunflower seeds depends on your preferred drying method. Some growers prefer to cut the stems earlier, when the backs of their sunflowers are yellow and dry them completely indoors, while others let them dry out completely on the stem and harvest them when the backs turn brown.
If you want to harvest earlier and dry indoors, follow these steps:
- Cut off stalks 4 inches below heads when outer seeds are mature and inner seeds are approaching maturity.
- Hang upside down in a warm, well-ventilated area.
- Cover heads with paper sacks.
- Wait for seeds to dry out and fully mature.
- Follow steps 3-5 below.
If you decide to let the seeds harvest on the stalks, follow these steps:
- Protect from critters.
- When seeds are fully ripened, cut the stem 1 inch below the head.
- Rub the seeds from the head with your hand to collect in a bucket.
- Rinse harvested seeds.
- Allow the seeds to dry out on a paper towel or newspaper overnight before storing.
Roasting sunflower seeds
If you want to roast plain sunflower seeds, preheat your oven to 300 F. Spread your seeds on a cookie sheet. Then cook them for 15-20 minutes.
If you want salted sunflower seeds, cover them in a mixture of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salt per 2 quarts of water. Then, bring the seed-saltwater mixture to a boil and simmer for two hours. Alternatively, you may soak your seeds in a saltwater brine overnight to cut boiling time to a few minutes. Next, spread the seeds on a cookie sheet or shallow pan and preheat your oven to 300 F. Cook the seeds for 30 to 40 minutes until crisp, stirring occasionally. After taking them out of the oven, mix in one teaspoon of melted butter for every cup of seeds. Last, salt your seeds to taste as they cool on an absorbent towel.
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