Whether you want to snack on them, feed them to the birds, or plant them for next year, sunflower seeds are delicious, nutritious, simple to harvest, and a fun way to celebrate the fall season. Here are some simple instructions on how to harvest sunflower seeds.
When to Harvest Sunflower Seeds
Seeds can be harvested after the sunflower has wilted on its stem and lost most of its petals. The seeds are contained in the head that was that was the flower’s brown center. Whenever possible, leave the seeds in place on the stem to dry naturally. This should take approximately a week, depending on the weather. As they dry, the seeds will become more prominent in the shriveled flower head. You will know that the seeds are ready when their casing turns hard and brown. The shell of the seeds will be black with white stripes.
How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds
Cover the head of the sunflower with a paper bag or any breathable material and secure it with twine or string. Do not use a plastic bag, as this will inhibit air flow and encourage moisture, which can cause mold and rot. Replace the paper bag if it gets wet. If desired, you can also cut the bagged seed head, leaving at least 12 inches of the stem attached to it, and bring it indoors to dry. Skip steps 2 and 3 and go directly to step 4 if you decide to do this.
The seeds will begin falling off the head and into the bag on their own. Check the bag daily and remove loose seeds, storing them in an airtight container.
After a week or so, clip the stem of the flower, leaving about 12 inches intact, and bring the still-covered head inside to finish drying.
Hang the head upside down by the stem in a well-ventilated, warm, dry area.
Check the bag daily and remove any seeds that have dropped. Store the loose seeds in an airtight container. Continue until all the seeds have dropped. To speed up the process, you may shake the bag or use your fingers to loosen the seeds.
When you have collected all of the seeds, rinse them and allow them to air dry.
Sunflower Seeds for Planting
If you are planning to save the seeds to plant next season, simply store them in a dry location in a paper envelope.
Sunflower Seeds for Birds
If you harvested the seeds to feed to your feathered friends, place the seeds in a birdfeeder any time after harvesting and watch the birds gather and enjoy.
Sunflower Seeds for Eating
Eat only sunflower seeds that you know were harvested from a garden-variety plant – specific for eating – and were grown in a pesticide-free area. Soak the seeds overnight in a large bowl, adding ¼ cup of table salt for every quart of water. In the morning, remove seeds from the salted water and dry on paper towels. Spread the dry seeds on a baking sheet and roast in a pre-heated oven at 300 degrees for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. Let cool, remove shells and enjoy.
Are you a fan of sunflower seeds?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.