Mistakes to Avoid When Harvesting and Roasting Sunflower Seeds
Haste Makes a Mess of Things
Horrors! This is the fully illustrated not-to-do guide for a neophyte’s foray into sunflower food production. Whether for birds or humans, you want seeds which look like the ones you formerly purchased at the grocery or the feed store. Now that you are a sunflower gardener, do not be impatient or cut corners. Here is what may happen…
Sunflower Blossom Looks to the Sun
Mistake Number One
It is too early to cut this flower head (see above photo). The petals are still gloriously waving like a corona around the flower. Wait until almost all petals off.
Green Calyx Does Not Mean "Go"
Mistake Number Two
This one is still too early to cut, kind of… The general wisdom is that the back of the flower’s seed disk (called the calyx) should be all yellow-brown and drying out. The lovely and lively green as illustrated means the seeds are not mature, meaning not tasty and good for eating.
Immature Seeds of Sunflower Blossom
Mistake Number Three
Picking a sunflower with totally white colored seeds rather than black stripes on white means the seeds are not mature.
When to Cut the Flower?
I will cut my seed heads a little on the early side because the birds in my neighborhood organize themselves marvelously, with 24/7 surveillance on the progress of the seed maturation.
If I wait until the back of the flower is the proper shade of drying out, there will be no seeds left on the reverse side. Yes, one can cover up the flower head with a cheesecloth or paper bag to prevent fly-by avian diners from taking the seeds before the human gardeners get them. But, I did not want to be bothered. So, maybe that should be illustrated by mistake number four.
Mistake Number Four
Neglecting or forgetting to put bags over the flower heads to protect them from birds.
All That Nurturing Down the DrainClick thumbnail to view full-size
Mistake Number Five
Flower heads piled on top of each other to dry inside the garage, basement, or house prevent moisture from evaporating. Then all the flowers can become moldy. Eeyuck!
Mistake Number Six
If you are shelling the sunflower seeds before you roast them (which is an acceptable way to prepare them), trying to do it before the seeds are dried out enough is another mistake.
The insides will be like squishy white potato.
Mistake Number Seven
Cooking on too high a temperature. Whether you are roasting shelled or unshelled seeds, the common wisdom is to cook them at 300 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes.
Pictures Worth Thousands of Warning Words
I hope these photos frightened you enough to convince you follow all the wisdom contained in blogs on how to correctly harvest and roast sunflower seeds. After bestowing all the love a gardener pours into a crop of flowers, you deserve the bounty of seeds either for yourself or your bird friends. When you learn the specifics of sunflower harvesting, you will never need to see images like these in your own yard.
Beautiful To View, Wonderful To Eat
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
I had a beautiful sunflower fall over and snap because the head was so heavy forming seeds. The head was pointing down, the petals are mostly gone but the seeds are all white. Also, the back and stem are still green. I have put it in water for now - can I do anything with my sunflower to let it finish ripening or is it over?Helpful 21
After cutting the heads off the stem/stalk of the sunflower, what do you do with what’s left standing? Do you uproot the sunflower stalk and pull it out to start over?
You have several options. Sunflowers are annuals, so leaving the root will not lead to reblooming next year. However, current agricultural research highly supports a practice called "chop and drop." It means cutting the stalk of an unwanted plant (a weed or a spent flower) close to the ground and allowing the stalk to fall and decompose in place. The root will also slowly decompose. Keeping the root in its place instead of yanking it out supports all the fungi, microbiota, bugs, and etc to use the channels in the soil made by the root. Nevertheless, that root can be an obstacle next year if it has not totally turned to mush. Try chop & drop, but keep yanking as a last resort.Helpful 14
This is the first time I have ever grown the mammoth sunflower. I was googling when to harvest, but because I was so anxious about the pests getting it, I cut it too soon and the seeds did not form the black and white coat yet. Is there something I can do to let the head mature a little more so it grows the shell properly?
You can try keeping it in a dry place, but it sounds doubtful.Helpful 46
What if you cut the sunflower flowers off too early? I do not want to eat the seeds, only plant again next year. Since the seeds are not ready I’m guessing my sunflowers won’t grow?
That's usually the case. You need to allow the seeds to fully mature.Helpful 31
Sunflower seeds now have a black stripe but the back of the head is still green. I don't want the birds and the bugs to invade. Can I cut it down now?
It is probably still a little too soon to cut the flower head. Try covering the flower with a paper bag and securing it tightly enough so that large bugs can't crawl in, but not so tightly that you damage the stalk.Helpful 10
© 2011 Maren Elizabeth Morgan