How to Harvest and Process Sunflower Seeds

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How to Harvest and Process Sunflower Seeds

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Harvesting sunflower seeds is not a difficult process, but it involves a little bit of finesse and good timing.  Keep in mind that you’re not the only one who is interested in feasting on these tasty and nutritious morsels as birds, squirrels, mice and even deer will be competing for a piece of the pie.  Let’s take a look at how to protect the seeds from opportunistic scavengers along with steps to follow in order to process them as efficiently as possible.

When to Harvest

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The best time to harvest the seeds are when they are at their peak.  This normally occurs as the petals on the sunflower begin to dry and start falling to the ground.  The seeds will look plump and full, and they will either have a black or striped shell, depending on the variety.  However, if you harvest them too soon, the seeds will not be all that meaty whereas waiting too long will give you seeds that are too dry.  Waiting too long will also give other animals the opportunity to get at them first. 

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On a side note, one way to protect your sunflowers from animals taking the seeds is to cover the heads with some mesh or netting.  This can allow you to keep the heads intact until the last possible moment without worrying about animals stealing the seeds. 

How to Harvest

There are a number of ways to harvest sunflower seeds, and opinions vary as to the best methods to use.  One option is to cut the stem about an inch below the head and remove it once the seeds are fully-ripe.  You will know when the time comes because the petals will be dry and the seeds will be on the verge of popping out of their sheaths.  All you have to do is brush off the seeds by running your hand over them and/or shaking the heads.  Let the seeds dry before processing.  You can also let the head dry out before repeating the process above as well.  In both cases, ripe seeds should fall out pretty easily, and the shaking will help to separate the chaff from the seeds as well.

The other option is to cut the stem a few inches below the head and remove it once ¾ of the seeds are ripe.  Place the head into a paper bag, tie off the bottom, and hang them upside down for two to three weeks in a well-ventilated room.  You can also keep them hanging outside as long as the weather is warm and dry.  Once the heads have dried, it should be pretty easy to separate the seeds using the suggestions above or by giving the bag a good shake.  However, if you shake the seeds in the bag, you will have to separate them from the chaff and other debris from the flower as well.

Processing the Seeds

You can eat the seeds while they are raw and moist, and many people can’t resist digging right in once they are harvested.  However, you will be able to extract more nutrients and unlock more flavors while reducing bitterness by soaking and drying them.  Place the sunflower seeds in a bowl, and fill it with warm water.  Add around a teaspoon of salt for every cup of water, adjusting for taste, and either boil the sunflower seeds for a couple of hours or let them soak overnight. 

Soaking them takes longer, but the seeds will tend to be much more flavorful and tender.  When finished soaking, place them on a dishcloth or some paper towels and let them dry.  Once dried, place them on a baking sheet, put into a 250-300 degree oven and roast them for 20-30 minutes.  Place them in a bowl, add some salt and a little bit of olive oil, mix well and eat.

Try this out for yourself, and see how following these simple steps can help you to get more seeds that have more nutrients along with more flavor.  Nothing could be easier, and this is a great way to minimize waste and maximize the productivity of your garden.  You can also apply the same techniques to harvesting wild sunflower seeds, if and when the occasion presents itself.