How to harvest sunflower seeds

Seeds ripening in the sunflower flower head. See how succulent they still are?

I had a lot of fun growing my first sunflowers from the seeds given to me by DG, a fellow gardener, and was determined that I would follow his example of harvesting the seeds so I can also pass on the joy (seeds) to other gardeners.

One of the first things I learned was the need to wait for the seeds to mature first. Unfortunately, this involves allowing the flower to die and dry on the plant. Many people think that once the flower finishes blooming, the seeds are ready to be harvested. This is not true. If you look closely at the flower head and separate the seeds clustered there, you’ll see that they are yellow, moist and still fattening up.

Smaller sunflowers growing along the main stem while the main flower slowly dies.

At this point, there may still be some smaller sunflowers growing along the main stem. My theory about them is that they’re there to keep the plant alive while the seeds in the main flower head ripen. It’s sort of logical, isn’t it?

Coming back to the seeds, you have to wait until the whole head and stem just behind the head dry up before removing the flower from the plant. If you want to remove it sooner, then it’s recommended that you wait until the back of the flower head starts yellowing, then cut off the flower with about 30cm of stem with it, and hang it somewhere warm and dry until the seeds are ready to be extracted. For me, I left it to Mother Nature, even though there’s the risk of the seeds getting mouldy, or dropping and growing there. I’m sure the snails will get to any seedlings that manage to grow, though. I just waited until the entire stem leading to the flower had turned as brown as the flower head, then removed it from the plant. I then kept it in a warm, dry place for another couple of days to let it dry completely.

Seeds and chaff from the dried sunflower head. I found that most of the viable seeds were along the outer edges of the flower head.

So here’s the fun part – getting the seeds.

Take the dried flower and hold it over a big sheet of paper or a small bucket or bowl, if you wish. Rub your thumb or finger over the dried seeds, like you would over the bristles of a toothbrush. This is, to me, an almost magical experience, because there you are, brushing tightly packed chaff, when suddenly a clean, perfectly formed seed pops out from it! Yeah, I’m easily pleased… :P

Do note that the seeds slip out easily and will go flying if you’re too vigorous, so don’t be over-enthusiastic! Just keep going slowly until you don’t feel any more hard, rounded seeds on the flower head, then sort the good seeds from the non-viable ones. The good ones will look like what you first planted – fully formed and rounded on one end, almost like grains of rice. Be disciplined and discard the narrow, malformed and skinny seeds. Then take the good ones and plant them, store them or eat them (if they’re edible) – the choice is yours – and the possibilities begin again…

One last note: don’t leave the flower alone for too long after harvesting it, because all kinds of insects will set up home in there! Trust me on this… :|

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How to harvest sunflower seeds — 4 Comments