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When & How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds – And How To Roast Them Too!

There is nothing quite like harvesting your own homegrown sunflower seeds. Especially if you roast them to perfection for a delicious and nutritious snack!

Sunflowers are growing in popularity with many home gardeners. Not only are they easy to plant and grow, they also add big interest to garden settings with their large, colorful seed heads.

sunflower head
The bright, showy heads of a sunflower are actually hundreds of tiny individual flowers.

Sunflowers are actually quite unique as a garden plant. They are not, as many might think, a single bloom or flower head. Instead, they are actually hundreds of flowers that all combine together to form a majestic seed head.

And those seed heads are not only delicious to humans, but to birds, squirrels and many other wildlife. In fact, many gardeners grow sunflowers for the sole purpose of feeding nature’s many residents. (See: How To Grow Sunflowers)

shelling sunflowers
The seeds of the sunflower head are of great nutritional value, both to humans and animals.

With that in mind, here is a look at how to know when sunflowers are ready to harvest, along with a few “best” methods for drying and curing. And for those who love roasted sunflower seeds, we even include a quick and simple recipe at the end to make all of your harvesting efforts worthwhile!

How To Know When Sunflowers Are Ready To Harvest

There are a few tell-tale signs that the seed heads of a sunflower are ready for harvesting.

For starters, the once bright seed head will start to turn dull and faded. In addition, the colorful petals surrounding the seed head will begin to die off as well.

harvesting and drying sunflower seeds
When the sunflower petals begin to wilt and die off, it is the first sign that the sunflowers are nearing harvesting.

But the most telling sign of is not on the front of the sunflower, but on the back of it.

This portion of the sunflower is bright green as the sunflower grows and matures. But when the sunflower has ripened it’s seed head, this area, called the calyx, turns to a brownish, dark yellow color.

When this area turns color, it is a signal that the sunflower is no longer sending energy to the seed head. And at any point after the calyx turns, harvesting can begin.

harvest sunflower seeds
When the back of the sunflower turns from bright green to a brownish-yellow, the heads can be harvested.

This is not to say hat sunflower seed heads can’t be left on the stalks to dry naturally. But unfortunately, doing so usually results in birds, squirrels and other animals helping themselves to your crop.

Harvesting Sunflower Seed Heads

The best way to keep your harvest safe is to harvest as soon as the calyx turns to its brownish/yellow color. Begin by cutting the head from the stock, leaving about 6 to 8 inches of stalk behind the head.

Next, remove any leaves to help the seeds dry faster, and hang or place on a screen in a protected area that is dry. Back porches, barns and garages are all excellent choices. The key to faster drying is to provide a spot with good air flow.

Allow the head to die off completely and turn dark brown. Once this happens, the seeds are dry enough to remove. The time this can take will vary on conditions and the size of the sunflower head, but they will usually dry out within 2 to 3 weeks.

harvest sunflower seeds
A completely dried sunflower seed head that is ready for shelling.

To remove the seeds, begin by lightly scraping off any chaff or bud remnants on top of the seed head. Then, with a large bowl or 5 gallon bucket below, rub two heads together to remove seeds in quick fashion.

You can also remove the seeds by rubbing the seeds from their nesting spot with your thumbs and fingers, but be sure to wear gloves! It can take a toll on your fingertips if you have very many to shell.

Roasting Sunflower Seeds

So now that you have harvested your sunflower seeds, it’s time to roast them. Although sunflower seeds can be shelled and eaten raw, many prefer roasting for added flavor. And it couldn’t be easier to do!

There are two methods for roasting, one for salt, and one without.

For unsalted seeds, begin by rinsing off and patting the seeds dry. Spread out on a cookie sheet in a thin layer while preheating your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

harvesting sunflower seeds

To roast, place on the center rack position and roast for 35 to 40 minutes until the shells turn slightly brown. The seeds should crack open easily down the middle.

The Salted Version

For a salted version, begin by soaking the seeds overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup of salt and 2 cups of water. Drain off the water, but do not rinse the seeds.

Allow seeds to dry out a bit, and then roast on a cookie pan for 35 to 40 minutes on 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Once cooled, the seeds can be stored in an air-tight container to keep fresh for months.

Here is to enjoying the benefits of planting, growing and harvesting your own delicious crop of sunflower seeds!

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