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The harvesting season is upon us, when the fruits of our labors are finally producing their last. At least for the summer season. Sunflower seeds remain one of the most fascinating harvests from the garden. While tomatoes can grow haphazard and beans the same, there is complete order in sunflower seeds. Their tightly packed jewels hold beauty for the eye and a treat for the tongue. There isn’t usually a lost millimeter of space between seeds that are ready to harvest, and this makes them lovely and fun to work with!
These leggy flowers also give gardens a vertical height that can provide a bit of shade for lettuces and other greens. So not only do they bring beauty but functionality as well. But once you’ve grown sunflowers, how do you know when to begin looking for seeds to harvest?
When are Sunflowers Ready?
When to harvest sunflowers? This was such a mystery to me our first year. In fact, the sunflowers we had growing in our garden had been started in my son’s preschool class, so I had no idea what variety we were working with or how getting seeds even worked. But patience is the name of the game when it comes to sunflowers. Though they may seem finished growing, stretching their long stalks up to 8 feet in the air, you want to wait until the flower itself seems to be dying.
Once the petals begin to wilt and fade, the seeds themselves will become more visible, as you can see here. Wait until they dry out just enough so you can see their color change to the tan seed color we all know (bag of shelled sunflower seeds, anyone?). Also be on the watch for birds and other garden intruders who may also want your sunflower seeds. They’re tasty to more than just people!
When you’re ready to harvest the seeds, cut the head from the stalk, and prepare to remove the seeds. This can be done indoors or out, but if you choose indoors, line your table with newspaper for easy clean up. This is also a great job for little gardeners and helpers. Girly Gardener loved helping with this task. Bend the head back slightly (think ice cube tray flexing) and then begin pressing the rows of seeds to pop them out. Once you get started, you’ll quickly find your rhythm.
Once the flower head is empty, gather up the seeds and set them aside for roasting or storing. That’s it! Pretty simple if I do say so myself. The larger the sunflower, the easier the seed is to harvest, so keep this in mind if you’re just now thinking about what type of sunflowers to grow come the spring.
Eating your Sunflower Seeds
The sunflower seeds you harvest can certainly be shelled and eaten raw. Raw sunflower seeds are widely available on the market these days. You can also choose to roast your sunflower seeds for a longer shelf life, and I’ll be sharing how to do this later in the week. I’ll even throw in some fun, tasty variations for the sunflower seed rebels out there.
Also feel free to use your seeds in a creative recipe, like this Sunflower Seed Brittle from The Yummy Life. The possibilities are endless!
Storing Sunflower Seeds
For raw sunflower seeds, seal them in an airtight container in a dark, cool pantry or cabinet. For longer shelf life, place the seeds in a glass jar and refrigerate. If you know you won’t eat the seeds very quickly, you can also freeze them for long-term storage. Sunflower seeds, like other nuts and seeds, will certainly let you know when they are no longer good. The seeds will have a rancid smell and “off” taste if they have spoiled. So take care to eat them up! They are a wonderful source of vitamin E and are simply fabulous in so many dishes!
Sunflowers bring beauty to the garden with their majestic flowers and their height is a wonderful vertical touch to any garden or flower bed. I’d love to know if you have grown or harvested sunflowers! Do you have a favorite variety? Enjoy this harvest season and happy gardening!