Sunflower seeds make excellent additions to muffins and other baked goods, or they are easy to make into a peanut butter substitute. While sunflower seeds are readily available already processed, nothing compares to fresh sunflower seeds harvested from the back garden. Just a few sunflowers provide plenty of seeds for all sorts of uses. Once homeowners know how easy it is to harvest sunflower seeds on their own, they never need to buy them again.
Sunflowers have about 70 different species, all of which are recognisable for their height and their distinctive blooms. Each type of sunflower grows to heights of anywhere from 50 to 390 cm. The head of each flower features a disk in the centre that eventually forms seeds surrounded by bright, large petals. Left alone, the seeds fall and grow to become mature sunflowers as well. Harvested before falling naturally, the seeds are nutritious and delicious.
When to harvest sunflower seeds
Sunflowers love warm weather and sunny conditions. The blooms even follow the sun throughout the day. Sunflowers let gardeners know that it is time to harvest the seeds when the petals start to fall from the flower head and the back of the flower starts to turn brown. At that time, the seeds are still in good condition and ready to save for the birds or to set aside as snacks for people.
Removing the entire head
To begin harvesting, remove the entire head of the sunflower before the seeds drop off. Use garden shears or a sharp knife to cut the stem approximately 10 to 15 cm from the head. Handle the head gently to avoid dislodging too many seeds. Place the head in a basket to prevent seeds from dropping until all of the seeds are ready to dry after removal.
Drying the head
To keep clean-up to a minimum, take a square of cheesecloth large enough to drape around a sunflower head and gently tie it with twine. Once secure, hang the head upside down by tying the stems to a coat hanger or to something stable. Place the head in a cool location so it can dry.
Removing the seeds
Gradually as the head dries, it releases the seeds. If there are any left attached to the head, gently bump the head until more seeds fall out of it. Another option is to carefully remove the cheesecloth, without dumping the seeds, and manually brush the seeds away from the sunflower head into a bowl.
Hulling the seeds
Some people enjoy sunflower seeds still in the hull, but most prefer them already hulled to make eating easier. A simple way to hull a large amount of sunflower seeds is to place them in a large zippered plastic bag and then run a rolling pin over the bag. This cracks the hulls, but they still need separating from the seed meat. Place the contents of the zippered plastic bag into a bowl of water and swirl the seeds. The shells of the seeds are lighter and float, while the seeds sink to the bottom of the bowl for easy collection.
Roasting sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds attain a richer taste when roasted. To start, toss sunflower seeds in a few teaspoons of melted butter and salt to taste. Spread the seeds in an even layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake the seeds for 20 minutes at 148 degrees Celsius. Toss when finished and store the roasted seeds in an airtight container at room temperature.
Storing sunflower seeds
Store hulled sunflower seeds in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three months. Unhulled sunflower seeds can last as long as a full year in an airtight container. Heat is the enemy of all seeds, so be sure to keep the seeds away from direct sunlight. To keep either type of sunflower seeds even longer, put them in a plastic zippered bag and store them in the freezer for up to two years.
How to buy gardening supplies on eBay
Whether you need starter seeds to get your sunflower garden going or you are ready to start harvesting seeds from existing plants, everything that you need to do the job is easy to find on eBay. Type the name of any items that you seek, such as "garden shears" or "cheesecloth", in the search bar on any eBay page. Refine the results as needed until you find exactly the right tools. Do not forget all of the things that you need to maintain your sunflowers as well, such as watering cans and weeding implements.