Mistakes to Avoid When Harvesting and Roasting Sunflower Seeds

Updated on March 15, 2018
Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren gardens in Pennsylvania, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry at low cost.

Sunflower growing in the garden.
Sunflower growing in the garden. | Source

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….

For seed harvesting, don't cut this one.
For seed harvesting, don't cut this one. | Source

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.

Oops. Don't cut this one either.
Oops. Don't cut this one either. | Source

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.

This one's not ready either: Observe the single seed pulled out to show that its shell is all white.
This one's not ready either: Observe the single seed pulled out to show that its shell is all white. | Source

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 do not want to be bothered. So, maybe that should be illustrated by mistake number 4.

Mistake Number Four

Forgetting to put bags over the flower heads.

All That Nurturing Down the Drain

Piling all the flower heads in a bucket can lead to insufficient drying.
Piling all the flower heads in a bucket can lead to insufficient drying. | Source
Yes - this seed head is covered with mold.  We want sunflower seeds, not penicillin.
Yes - this seed head is covered with mold. We want sunflower seeds, not penicillin. | Source

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 dry enough is another mistake. The insides are like squishy white potato.

This oven is hot. Too hot!
This oven is hot. Too hot! | Source

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.

Bon appetit!

Another sunflower earlier in its growth cycle.
Another sunflower earlier in its growth cycle. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Maren Elizabeth Morgan

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      • Maren Morgan M-T profile image
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        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 2 months ago from Pennsylvania

        Eloiza, your description sounds as though there is no hope. No seeds equal no new flowers. Why not explore different seeds at your local garden stores or seeds from a catalogue?

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        Eloiza 2 months ago

        Hi! What should I do to sunflowers that are given to me? They are cut way too early for the aestethic purpose of giving a sunflower boquet. I badly want to grow them. What should I do? I see no seeds at the back of the head. I put the others in a vase with water but one of the sunflowers was cut from its stem so I let it dry out however I see no seeds even tho there were no leaves left, but the center was still soft. What should I do?

      • Maren Morgan M-T profile image
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        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 4 months ago from Pennsylvania

        Joni, good question about the image. Have you tried FAQ? Hubpage staff are also good about replying to individual emails. thanks for sharing your experiences.

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        Joni 5 months ago

        Great information. As my sunflowers are often too tall to cover I harvested a little earlier also, and dried the entire seed head this year for gifts. While still fresh and crisp I shaved off most of the fleshy back (Calyx?) and they took a long time too dry beside my wood stove w a fan. They are beautiful, unique, and a fun experiment. The best success for maintaining their shape was by fastening each head between 2 cooling racks loosely layered on a wooden clothes rack. Way worth the effort. How can I import an image in these comments?

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        whoknows 7 months ago

        You forgot Sunflowers are good for goats. Vitamin E help goats in fertility plus goats love them. Now before you do not like the thought of having to split the seeds... I better say that you can give them the whole plant. You can take 2 or 3 leaves on one plant while the plant is still young and 4 or 5 when the plant is older. And after you harvest the sunflowers, just turn the goats loose on the sunflower plants. They will remove the stems and here and there the root.

      • Maren Morgan M-T profile image
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        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

        Keri, yes - I made enough silly mistakes that I was able to write a hub about it. It's a little embarrassing, but hopefully it will save others from a wasted growing season.

      • Keri Summers profile image

        Keri Summers 6 years ago from West of England

        This made me laugh! At least you got a great hub out of your sunflower disasters - and we can all learn from your mistakes. This is exactly the kind of thing I would have done. Now I know better!

      • Maren Morgan M-T profile image
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        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

        Great, KoffeKlatch Gals! Isn't research in the era of the Internet fantastic?

      • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

        Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

        Great pictures and great advice. I feel I can do it correctly now.

      • Maren Morgan M-T profile image
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        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

        Thanks, Dirt Farmer! It is fun to snap pix of flowers and all things garden!

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        Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

        Your photos are gorgeous!

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