Sunflowers are ridiculously easy to grow, and they yield enough seeds to make producing oil simple and efficient. You can even make oil out of the seeds that you purchase from the store. Let’s take a look at how you can produce a nutritious and steady supply of oil that can be stored year-round.
Planting the Seeds
Make sure that you choose black oil sunflower seeds as these are the ones that produce oil that is suitable for cooking. You can start seeds indoors and transplant them into the garden around 2 weeks before the last frost. Sunflowers are very tolerant in low as well as high temperatures, and they will start to grow once the soil is between 50 and 60 degrees. The great thing about sunflowers is that they don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water, and they grow well in average soil. However, if you are growing them in desert conditions, consider adding soil to boost nutrient uptake.
Plant seeds in rows that are about two inches apart, and you can space the seeds between 2 and six inches. Keep in mind that the plant will grow taller and produce bigger flowers when they are placed at greater distances. However, you should be able to harvest sufficient supplies even if they are tightly-packed into their respective rows. You also may want to consider staggering planting rows on a weekly basis to give you a steady supply of mature plants throughout the growing season.
Plants will take between 80-120 days to mature before starting to wilt. You want to harvest them as soon as you notice the wilting. Pull off the flowery heads and let them dry out in a location that is protected from birds or rodents. Once they dry out, you can shake the seeds from the flower and use them for oil production.
Producing and Storing the Oil
The only drawback to making sunflower oil is that you need an oil seed press to extract the liquid. Building one from scratch is a complex process, and it is better to invest in a new or used press in order to keep things simple. Take an old two liter plastic bottle and cut off the bottom. Invert the bottle and place it in the feed hole on the press. This will allow you to process large quantities of seed without the need to continually feed the machine. Place a small mason jar at the end of the drain spout and start to crank the press. It should take about 15-20 minutes to process enough oil to fill a small jar. Make sure to periodically inspect and clean the filter on the press to ensure that you are extracting as much oil as possible.
The amount of oil that you can produce will depend on the quality of the press, the size of the flowers and the number of seeds that you are able to harvest. You can also process bags of seeds that are left over after planting as well. Make sure to fill the jars completely to the top with oil, and scale up or down accordingly. Cap with as little head space as possible and store in a cool and dry location. Sunflower oil can keep for up to two years. This procedure is a great and sustainable way to generate a continual supply of oil as well as nutritious sunflower seeds that can be roasted as well.