How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Harvesting and Roasting Sunflower Seeds

September 16, 2020
Sunflower Seeds

Harvested sunflower seeds

KLSbear/Getty Images

Ever harvested sunflower seeds? My sunflowers are usually ready to be harvested beginning in mid-September and into October. I mostly give my sunflower heads to the chickens and birds to peck, but you can also harvest and roast your seeds.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are native annual flowers which come in many different colors and patterns. Some reach for the heavens with one thick stem putting all of their energy into a single giant flower. Others spread out with many branches inviting you to pick them so that they can “come again.”

Many single-stem sunflower varieties are really quick to bloom, needing just 60 days from seeding date to reach harvestability.

Isn’t it amazing to think that these giant flower heads start from one little seed?!

About Sunflower Seeds and Oils

Sunflower seeds contain many nutrients and the best seeds come fresh from the flower head. They’re packed with calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. They are very fragile once they have been removed from their shells, so always purchase them in the shell or from a refrigerated source.

Sunflower oil is one of the few vegetable oils that is fairly stable. I use sunflower oil in my mayonnaise. The truly stable ones come in a dark bottle and are cold-pressed and unrefined. Once opened, the bottle should be refrigerated to avoid rancidity.

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When to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

It’s important to be able to recognize when the sunflower seeds are close to harvest. Here are cues:

  • The large heads begin to droop and turn down. The backside of the head should turn yellow-brown. If it’s still green, it’s not close to ready.
  • The tiny petals covering the developing seeds have dried and fallen off, exposing tightly-packed mature seeds. If most of the petals are still attached, leave the sunflower alone.
  • The seeds are hardened and turn black with white stripes. If the seeds are still milky white they are not mature. Pull a few seeds to see if they have developed.
  • The foliage has turned yellow.

While you’re waiting for your sunflowers to mature enough to harvest, make sure you protect them from critters. Once you notice the petals wilting, cover the sunflower heads with brown paper bags, fine netting, mesh, perforated plastic bags, or cheesecloth. Use a twist tie or rubber band to secure the bag so the seeds don’t fall out. 

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Image credit: Hirurg/Getty

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

It’s best to wait and let the seeds dry completely on the stem. Then, just cut the stem a inch below the heads.

But some folks want to beat the critters and dry indoors. In this case, cut the stalks about a foot below the heads when the outer seeds are mature and hang the heads upside down a warm, dry place that is well-ventilated and protected from rodents and insects. Keep the heads covered as described above.

When the seeds are thoroughly dried (after a few weeks), dislodge them by rubbing two heads together, or by rubbing the seeds with your hand or by using a stiff brush. Dislodge them over a big bucket. Allow the seeds to dry overnight on a paper towel.

Eating and Roasting Seeds

Once dried, you can eat the seeds alone, mixed with dried fruit, added to salads, or even used in place of nuts for baking. Store seeds in airtight glass jars in the refrigerator to retain flavor.  

Roast the seeds to enhance their flavor, lighty brown on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300°F for about 15 minutes. 

Seeds for Chicken Feed

I always give seeds heads to my chickens. As the seeds mature, I cut the heads off of the plants and, with a gloved hand, I rub the now dry brown “fuzz” off of the seeds. I then place them where they will dry. This includes my oven that has a pilot light and my picnic table when the sun is on it.

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Image: Chickens foraging. Credit: Pixelprof/Getty

Once the back is truly dry, I place them in bags upstairs. These I give to the chickens when it snows. As they refuse to go outside during these storms, I give them some sunflower heads and a few pumpkins or squashes so that they will have something to peck on besides each other.

Sunflowers as Cut Flowers

Sunflowers also make excellent cut flowers. Many times, they do need to be wired in order for their heads to look straight ahead. Getting the wire from a florist, put it right through the thick neck bringing it into the middle then twist both sides down the stem. They generally like a prominent placement if you are going to put them in a mixed bouquet. They definitely have the ability to capture the audience’s attention!

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Occasionally, a sunflower will act like it’s on steroids. I guess that’s what happened to this one!

Learn more about how to plant and grow sunflowers. See the Almanac’s free Guide to Growing Sunflowers

About This Blog

Celeste Longacre has been growing virtually all of her family’s vegetables for the entire year for over 30 years. She cans, she freezes, she dries, she ferments & she root cellars. She also has chickens. Celeste has also enjoyed a longtime relationship with The Old Farmer’s Almanac as their astrologer and gardens by the Moon. Her new book, “Celeste’s Garden Delights,” is now available! Celeste Longacre does a lot of teaching out of her home and garden in the summer. Visit her web site at www.celestelongacre.com for details.

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