How to harvest sunflower seeds?

juju222(z9 AZ)July 27, 2004

This is my first time growing sunflowers and they are Titans (really HUGE). I just noticed this morning that there are some seeds on the ground near the plants (they weren't there yesterday). This must be a sign that it is time to do something, but I am not sure what! LOL

Am I supposed to cut off the heads and let them ripen? Do I leave the heads on (some are really straining under the weight), cover them with cheesecloth and let them ripen, or are they already ripe?? They don't really look like seeds to me on the head itself?????

I wanted to use some for replanting next year, some for eating and some for birdfood.


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juju222(z9 AZ)

Well, I can answer part of my question...I found some good info by putting "harvesting sunflowers" into google.

But now I have cut one head off and can't for the life of me visualize how to hang it up???? Has anyone done this? I thought the seeds were ready, but they don't rub out.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2004 at 11:44PM
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Seems awfully early to harvest sunflower seeds. Sometimes the birds will let you know when it is time by removing seeds. The seeds in the center of the flower take weeks longer to ripen than the ones on the perimeter.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2004 at 1:48AM
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jkw7aj(z8a (Sunset 5))

I saw a show about growing sunflowers where the owner secured net bags over the heads of his sunflowers to keep the birds from getting the seeds. I'll bet those bags would collect the seeds nicely as well, especially if they ripen unequally. Paper bags would probably work too, as long as it didn't rain (and as long as your sunflower heads aren't too big to fit). I'd recommend bagging them, then when they appear to be ripe all the way to the center of the flower, just cut the stem below the bag, turn the whole thing upside down, and shake.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2004 at 2:54PM
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jkw7aj(z8a (Sunset 5))

I just realized that I wasn't completely clear. When I said "I'll bet those bags would collect the seeds nicely as well, especially if they ripen unequally", I meant that if the bags are secured tightly around the stem, any seeds that ripened early enough to fall out would still be in the bag instead of on the ground.

Probably the most important point to the whole suggestion is keeping the birds away. Even if you don't know when the seeds are ripe, trust me, the birds do.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2004 at 2:59PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

I think you can cut the flowers off, and hang them upside down with a string tied to the stems. Of course placing some type of cheese cloth or fine netting over them will help hold any seeds that drop. If the seeds are falling naturally, they may be ripe enough to pick the whole flower head.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2004 at 6:21PM
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juju222(z9 AZ)

ks rogers - OK, got some ideas...may have to do the string thing with this one pictured below. They are so heavy that I have to find a beam or something to hang them from...

jkw, I'll have to use something larger than a paper bag for most of them, since they are quite large!! The biggest one is about 18" across!!

Larry Gene, thanks for the tip about the ones in the center taking longer to ripen.

Here are a couple of photos of the one head that I cut yesterday...maybe you can tell me if I chopped it off way too early!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2004 at 12:06AM
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Looks like a pretty good seed head; the ones in the very center don't get as large as perimeter seeds anyway. In the future, you might let them go until a few perimeter seeds fall out on their own, or become like "loose teeth".

    Bookmark   July 29, 2004 at 3:29AM
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juju222(z9 AZ)

Larry, Thanks for your vote of confidence and advice. I feel better now :)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2004 at 12:06AM
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pdxjules(8, Portland, OR)

I remove heads if they are sagging badly, weighing down stalks, or if the plant look like it is energy can go to secondary blooms. IMO bagged heads look weird and stingy in the garden - so I'd never do that, and hope neighbors (on our city block) don't either.

I just arrange the heads on a piece of newspaper in my sunroom or a sunny windowsill. To winter over, heads go in a paper bag in a closet, allowing seeds to loosen - easier to separate in winter - when it's also time to share with the birds.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2004 at 7:25PM
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juju222(z9 AZ)

Julie - good input! Well, I have chopped three heads off so far and have been holding out for the other three, at least until the yellow flower things (the little tiny blossoms on each seed) fall off. The plants are looking pretty disgusting, so I may have to cut them down anyway.

The three that have been chopped are in paper bags, LOL, but they are hanging in our back yard where only we can see them. I had fun cutting holes in the bags - they look like something for Halloween!

Anyway, you have encouraged me to remove the other heads.
Thanks, Julie.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2004 at 2:22PM
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cbfindlay(z6 OH)

OK, now can anyone help me with hints on what to do with said seeds?
1. if you want to eat them - are there any that shouldn't be eaten? do they have to be roasted?
2. if you want to plant them next year - mine seemed to come back in spades simply doing nothing. But for insurance, do you sow them now, or in spring? do you plant them or just scatter them?
Thanks in advance, Cindy

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 3:36PM
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pdxjules(8, Portland, OR)

Sow in spring, after soil has warmed, so frost doesn't get em...and celebrate if any show up that may winter over outside.

I *scattered* MANY seeds in Spring as an experiment, and the birds and squirrels got 'em all! In contrast, all the seed I tucked into the dirt came up. YAY! Starting seed in pots works great too, and young plants make great Gifts or Trades! They transplant just fine after the 2nd set of leaves is there. Set seedlings outside a few days before planting - to acclimate to wind and night temperatures.

On the other question - I'm assuming that just roasting seeds on a cookie sheet (till they smell good) is the method, but I haven't done that yet. I have done it with pumkin seed tho - it's great - and lots of ways to season the seed can be tried. (I'm harvesting cooking punkins already!)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 2:20AM
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pdxjules(8, Portland, OR)

Just an Update - last month i harvested all my Seed Heads and enjoyed their burst of color on the sunroom windowsills. Now the origional stalks are covered with smaller but happy blooms.

After a heavy rain, however, 2 couple mice snooped around inside and loved the seed heads till i got traps set also! (Garden cats and ants enjoy the suprise of a free hi-protein dinner when that happens!) So now all seed heads are hung high in a paper bag in the sunroom...and traps remain set.

It's a busy seed-drying room now, but I'm thinking now about how to fit all the things in that I plan to try to winter over in that sunroom! Am going to try peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and more! Last year I kept tomatoes ripening there thru December. Appreciate any tips...

    Bookmark   September 17, 2004 at 2:00PM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

One of the garden TV hosts said that an old paint screen (metal) would make removing seeds from the head easily.

I cannot verify it (I've just used the paperbag method), but it looked good.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2004 at 10:26PM
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pdxjules(8, Portland, OR)

Seems I've cahtted about my sicko enjoyment of tickle pollinating in several Forums recently. And now that word reminds me of another tip.

Before bringing drying heads indoors, I like to tickle the faces - and let the flower chaff drop on the ground right there. You'll be able to seed the shiny black seed that way, and drying is quicker, and eventual separation easier and cleaner. Separating seed from the head is done once they are FULLY dry and falling out already. It doesnt hurt em to ruffle up the bag before opening to get that started.

I peel back leaf edges and let seeds drop out as the heads are bent and ruffed up a bit. And no doubt - more tickling gets the remaining seed out!

A friend sets his seed out on a wooden platform when he's going to be around to enjoy watching the birds. He lets soft soil be present underneath - that's a great place to look for natural starts to transplant around the garden. If you get a ton - give em away, or feed em to rabbits - they love em.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2004 at 1:51PM
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When is the best time to plant the Sunflower seeds. It seems that I may have started a little late. Some of mine are just blooming now. By the way I live north east.(Pittsburgh) Is that to north?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 3:16PM
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My sunflowers have bloomed, but now they are a couple are bent down the petals have fallen off & some of the baby flowers in the center have fallen off but my seeed's are big and white no black showing what so ever. Will this happen later?
Also for the question about roasting sunflower seeds when I was a child the neighbor gave me some seeds from her sunflowers, we soaked them in salt water over night,laid them on a paper towel for about 10 minutes to air dry a bit and baked them in the oven until they smelled good. they turned out very good

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 12:03PM
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Like the original post, this is my first time growing sunflowers.

I have 3 mammoths, all over 6ft tall, and the heads are drooping, petals wilted, smaller flowers are brown, and are starting to be attacked by birds.

My concern is that the ripest seeds are only black and grey, not white. Are they ripe enough to cut off the stem and store in the shed or should I wait for the seeds to turn white first?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 6:59AM
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Pretty sure I goofed. I live in new England (new Hampshire) and I planted my sunflower a little late this year. I have meet done them before but they got taller than my house. Unfortunately I goofed and planted them too close to my front door. (I'm allergic to bees) so I had to cut them while their seeds were still white. They are on my counter in water like the smaller ones but, is it too late for their seeds or can I still save them?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 5:37PM
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