Whether you have a field full of gorgeous sunflowers or just a few, if it is your first time growing sunflowers you may not be sure when or how to harvest the sunflower seeds from the plants. It would be a shame to lose out on a harvest because you waited too long and the birds stole all of the seeds.
The time to harvest sunflowers is after the center of the flower turns brown. The back of the head will also turn yellow when it is time to harvest. Other signs that it is time are heads that seem to be weighting the whole plant down and seeds dropped on the ground. If you notice the birds hanging around your sunflowers and eating the seeds, you’d better start harvesting before there is nothing left of the seeds.
The best way to harvest sunflowers is to cut off the heads that are ready and hang them upside down to dry. It is best to dry them indoors, but if you don’t have enough room you can hang them from a clothesline or the edge of your porch. The heads should be covered up while they are drying. It doesn’t really matter what you use to cover them. The purpose is merely to catch the seeds as they fall out. Most people use cheescloth, netting or large paper grocery sacks.
What you do with the seeds next depends on your purpose for growing sunflowers. If you want the seeds to feed the birds over the winter, you can use them as is. Just store them in a large container until they are needed. If the variety of sunflowers you planted was not a hybrid, you can also save some of the seeds to plant next year. If you do this, try to save seeds from your healthiest and prettiest plants in order to ensure that the next generation of plants will be big and healthy too.
If you plan to eat the sunflower seeds, you will probably want to roast them. Before roasting the sunflower seeds, you should soak them in a saltwater solution overnight. Use 1 cup of salt for each quart of water. In the morning, spread the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them in the oven at 150 to 200 degrees until they are dry. It takes three to four hours for them to dry, and you should mix them up once per hour to make sure they all dry evenly.
Now that your sunflowers are harvested, all that’s left is to enjoy them. Store your roasted sunflower seeds in glass jars and enjoy them all year round.