Tall, shiny, and elegant sunflowers are a staple plant in many home gardens and gardens. Everyone from young children to experienced gardeners love to grow these majestic flowers during the summer months. However, what many people don’t realize is that the attraction doesn’t have to end when the flowers wither.
As the flowers wither, the central part of the flower produces masses of seeds. Some people, including myself, like to leave them in place for birds and wildlife to harvest. But if you like sunflower seeds, you can also harvest them yourself.
If you want to learn how to harvest sunflower seeds, this guide is for you. Our sunflower seed harvesting guide will tell you everything you need to know.
A popular part of the summer garden, knowing how to harvest sunflower seeds allows you to enjoy these colorful plants even more.
What is a sunflower?
Before we discuss how to harvest sunflower seeds, I will quickly tell you what these plants are. Officially known as Helianthus annuus, these popular plants belong to the Asteraceae family. Other members of the Asteraceae family include daisies and osteospermum.
Easily identifiable thanks to its large open flower, the central disc of the flower is in fact made up of many small inflorescences. These are surrounded by large petals, usually yellow. You can also find varieties that bloom in shades of orange, white, red, and dark purple.
Each inflorescence or flower is able to self-pollinate, producing a grain or seed which is contained within the outer shell. Depending on the cultivar, the seed may be striped or black.
When to harvest
Before we discuss how to harvest sunflower seeds, we will first explain when is the best time to start harvesting.
One of the best plants to start from seed, knowing when to start harvesting is an important part of knowing how to harvest sunflower seeds. Start too early and the seed will be small and disappointing. Wait too long and visiting wildlife might get ahead of you.
The grains can ripen any time from July to October. It all depends on where you are growing, what variety you planted, and when the plants started. In general, the sooner you start your plants, the sooner they are ready for harvest.
As the flowers wither, the petals turn brown and begin to shrivel or dry out. During this time, in the center of the flower, grains begin to form.
Continue to pay special attention to the central disc. You will notice that the tiny petals dry out. By lightly scratching your hand on them, the petals detach from the disc. This exposes the tight kernels.
The kernels are ripe and ready for harvest when the calyx on the back of the flower head turns yellow-brown and the outer petals drop from the plant.
As the flower wilts, grains form.
How to harvest sunflower seeds
If you choose to let the kernels ripen on the stem, there is a risk that they will ripen and fall off the plant. Either by planting seeds where they fall, or by spreading them over a larger area by visiting birds and squirrels. This can lead to many surprise flowers next year. Indeed, did you know that planting Helianthus annuus is one of the best options for attracting birds to your garden?
If you don’t mind the plants being scattered around your garden, allow the buds to dry on the stem. If you want to avoid this, you will need to cut the flower head off the plant.
To know when to cut the flower head, look closely at the back of the flower head, the calyx. When it turns from its original green to a yellow-brown tint, cut off the head with 6 to 8 inches of stem. You will need to use a sharp knife or pruning shears. Helianthus annuus has notoriously thick stems. These can be difficult to cut if your tools are not sharp enough. A whetstone is a great way to sharpen knives and garden tools.
Cut off any leaves still attached to the stem. This eliminates any pests that may be hiding in the foliage. If you are drying more than one cut stalk, tie a few, no more than 4, with a little garden twine, such as jute twine.
Hang the stems upside down, heads turned to the ground, in a shady or partially sunny, dry and well-ventilated place. A shed is ideal. When the buds turn brown, you can start harvesting the seeds.
As the buds dry out, you can place a sheet of paper under the flower heads to catch the falling kernels. Do not use plastic sheeting, it can build up moisture and cause the grains to mold.
How to harvest sunflower seeds by drying the buds on the stem
If you don’t mind stray seeds spreading throughout the garden, let the stems stay put.
Check the back of the heads regularly. When they turn brown, pay attention to the grains. Ripe grains are plump. If one or two have fallen, it means they are ripe and ready to harvest. To prevent wild animals from picking up the seeds as they mature, try tying a paper bag around the head of the flower.
When learning how to harvest sunflower seeds, you may need to protect the drying grains from wildlife visits.
When the seed is ripe, cut the stem about 7 inches from the flower head.
You will notice a protective layer of pollen on the grains. This protective layer looks like small pieces of fluffy debris or green-yellow buds. Its presence helps protect the seeds as they form.
With a knife or your hand, gently scrape the dry remnants of the inflorescence petals from the central disc to reveal the grains.
Separate the seeds from the flower head
The next step in learning how to harvest sunflower seeds is to learn how to separate the seeds from the flower head. There are two ways to do this. Whichever method you follow, you will need a suitable bucket or large container to catch the beans as they fall.
The first method is to simply use your thumbs to rub the grains away from the flower head. Let the container catch them when they fall. To make it easier, cut or break the flower head into smaller, manageable pieces.
You can also take two ripe buds or two pieces of the same flower head that are roughly the same size and gently rub them together. Again, do this on the container so that the beans are caught when they fall.
After drying, you need to remove the ripe seeds from the flower head.
Handling sunflower seeds
An essential part of learning to harvest sunflower seeds is knowing how to handle, prepare and store the seeds.
If you want to save seeds for sowing next year or for feeding birds, the seeds can be stored in an airtight jar, such as a mason jar, or an envelope in a cool, dry place until you be prepared to use them. Remember to label and date your envelopes and jars. As it ages, a seed loses its viability.
Some people like to eat the seeds raw, breaking the shells with their teeth. You can also roast the seed. This makes them easier to open. Roasting also gives the seed a richer flavor.
How to roast
If you’re learning to harvest sunflower seeds so you can enjoy a homemade roasted snack, preheat the oven to 400 ° F. Spread the seeds out in a single, flat layer on an ungreased baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes.
Once dry, the hulls can be easily cracked. You may need to put them back in the oven for a few more minutes until they are completely dry.
If you prefer salted seeds, add 2-4 tablespoons of salt and 1 cup of seeds to a quart of boiling water. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain the water and dry the grains on a baking sheet before roasting in the oven as described above.
Finally, if you want to roast the almonds without their shells, you will need to shell each almond before roasting. It’s easier than it looks. Place half a cup of beans in a plastic bag and seal it. Lay the bag so that the beans are flat.
Use a rolling pin to open the shells. After breaking all the shells, empty the bag into a bowl of water. Broken hulls float upward, heavier almonds sink downward.
Remove the shells from the water, a skimmer is useful here. Drain the water and allow the seeds to dry before roasting them. Roast the shelled seeds for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 ° F. Remember to flip them halfway through the process.
The seed is protected by a shell. To take advantage of the seed, you will need to remove the shell.
You can store the raw, unshelled seeds in a cupboard or pantry for 2-3 months. They can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 12 months. Roasted and unshelled, the seed can be kept for 4 to 5 months in a cupboard or up to a year in the refrigerator or freezer.
One of the easiest flowers to grow, Helianthus annuus is a popular member of the summer garden. Their large, bright flowers bring color and pollinators to the garden. Knowing how to harvest sunflower seeds is beneficial for a number of reasons. It allows you to save seeds for sowing next year, feed visiting garden birds, or even save them for yourself as a quick snack.