The Garden

A Quick Guide to Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Harvesting sunflowers

If you’re here then you most likely want to know about saving sunflower seeds. Don’t worry, I got you. I believe that yellow is supposed to be a happy colour. Maybe that is why seeing my giant sunflowers makes me smile every damn time. Or it could also be all the bees that they bring to my garden. Either way, sunflowers will always have a place on my micro homestead.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

If you are curious to learn more about saving other types of seeds, you can check out A Micro homesteaders guide to saving seeds where I go into it in more detail. In this post I am just going to focus on harvesting and saving sunflower seeds which is why we are all here. So let’s jump right into all things sunflower.

Sunflower & bees

Some fun facts about sunflowers

  • Young sunflowers are heliotropic, which means they follow the sun each day. At night they reset to face the east to be ready for the sun in the morning. Older plants just face the east as their stems have stiffened and they are not longer mobile.
  • Sunflowers are self-pollinating, so they have both the male and female parts within each flower. They can also be pollinated by pollen brought by wind.
  • The petals around the edge (ray florets) do not mean it is a single flower. A sunflower is actually made up of hundreds of little flowers (disc florets) in the centre. This is where the male and female sex organs are located and these produce the seeds.
  • Depending on the variety they can be just 1-2 feet tall or grow in excess of 14 feet! The largest sunflower (in the Guinness Book of World Records) measured 30 feet and 1 inch.
Sunflower closeup

Method 1: Mature in the garden

Personally, this is my favourite method for saving sunflower seeds and it’s a greta option as long as pesky critters are not an issue. Just let them hang out in the garden and do their thing naturally. In all honesty I was feeling rather cocky this year thinking I was going to be able to pull this off. I had my mammoth grey striped sunflower seeds planted in the middle of my garden, well away from the fence. It was actually going really well until a few days ago when I saw shells on the ground under my beautiful sunflowers. Damn. So the decision was made to move onto method #2.

Method 2: Hang to dry

If the critters are taking a toll on your sunflowers then cutting them and hanging to dry is probably your best option. Just make sure that it is mature and that the pollen is gone, disc florets brush off easily and that the stem is bent with the flower head facing the ground. This is important as if the flowers are not pollinated and the seeds on their way to maturity you may not end up with viable seeds. Assuming things look good then go ahead and trim any leaves to about 1 foot to 1.5 feet back from the flower head. Then cut the head off leaving that 1-1.5 feet of stem so you have something to hold onto. I love using my hori hori garden knife for tasks like this (and so many more!).

Then using some twine tie it around the stem and you can hang in a garage or shed from the rafters to dry completely. You can tie 2-3 flower heads together, just make sure that the flower heads face the outside. This will allow for good air circulation as we don’t want anything going moldy. Don’t forget these flower heads are HEAVY!!! So many sure you you tie some good and tight knots.

Method 3: Netting or pillowcases

If you want to try and buy a bit more time in the garden for your sunflowers AND all the pollen is gone. Then you can try covering the flower heads with tulle/netting or a pillowcase. I haven’t tried this as I always worry about things going moldy (this only applies to the pillowcase). I have seen other people that have used the netting and the squirrels and other such wee beasties just chomped right through it and still ate the seeds. But it is an option and will depend on how intent on getting the seeds your particular wee beasties are!

Sunflower & Butterfly

When to harvest sunflower seeds?

Ok so you have your glorious sunflowers growing in your garden but how do you know when they are ready to harvest? There are 5 main things you need to look, if you can answer yes to all of them then you are good to harvest the seeds.

  • Is the stem bent over with the flower head facing the ground?
  • Are the outer petals dried and come out easily?
  • Can you easily brush off the florets on the flower head?
  • Is the back of the flower head yellow/brown?
  • Are the seeds loose in the flower head?

How do you prepare sunflower seeds for storage?

So you have all your seeds harvested but what now? MAKE SURE THEY ARE DRY. Sorry…but I am very particular about this. There is nothing worth than going to all the effort to save seeds and then having them go moldy on you (yes I learnt the hard way). Once the flower heads are dry you can lay the seeds out on some newspaper or even better on a seed drying rack to make sure they are 100% dry. Then you can store them either in an air tight container or in some cute seed packages. I have some free printable seed packages you can snag here or a wider selection (and some cool t-shirts and stickers) in my Etsy shop, The Micro Homestead.

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