How to Harvest Sunflowers - Backyard Boss
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How to Harvest Sunflowers

Any time you can grow and harvest your produce, there’s a sense of satisfaction unlike any other. Personally, it’s one of my favorite feelings. Plucking that fresh, plump tomato from the plant or snipping off that watermelon from the vine. There’s nothing like it! 

With growing your sunflower from seeds, though, there’s the extra level of satisfaction you get from harvesting the tasty seeds from the sunflower head.

This simple tutorial shows you how to do that for the optimum ease and satisfaction in one. Enjoy!

What You Need

Harvesting your sunflower seeds is a pretty easy feat for folks of all ages. It’s a great activity to do with the kids, on a lazy afternoon on the patio, or whenever you’re ready to enjoy some deliciousness.

To do the harvesting, you’ll need a few simple supplies:

  • Twine (for drying the flowers yourself)
  • Pruning shears
  • Paper bags
  • A 5-gallon bucket or another large-mouthed container
  • Gloves

How to Harvest Your Sunflower Seeds

yellow sunflower
Image credits: Capri23auto via Pixabay

There are two basic methods for your sunflower seed harvest. First, you can dry the sunflower heads yourself, or secondly, you can let the sunflowers dry on the stem.

However, before we move any further, we need to explain what the calyx is.

The calyx is the part of the flower that forms a whorl and encloses the flower petals in a protective layer of the flower bud. Once the sunflower has grown, this winds up being on the backside of the flower.

Drying the Sunflower Heads Yourself

sunflower head with seeds revealed, petals gone
Image credits: AllNikArt via Pixabay

Now when we know what the calyx is, it’s time to explain how to dry the sunflower heads. Simply, follow these four easy steps:

  1. The calyx starts out green, then it grows and expands with the flower. As soon as it turns a brownish yellow color and the outer petals wither and drop, you’ll want to cut off the head from the stem with a pair of pruning shears, leaving about 6 to 8 inches of stalk behind the head.
  2. Remove the leaves from the stalk, clean off any debris, and get rid of any pests that cling to the flower head. You’ll need to dig through the leaves and petals a bit to find all of them, but you’ll want to do so carefully to avoid damaging the flower and seeds in the meantime.
  3. Now, tie together two or three stems of sunflowers with twine. Hang them inside a shed, mudroom, or other places where they won’t get a lot of moisture in the air. Make sure the heads are facing downward, in a partially or fully shady area that’s dry, with good ventilation. You may wish to tie a paper bag (never use plastic!) to catch the seeds as they fall off.
  4. The tiny petals in the center of the flower head will dry out first. Scrape these off gently when they appear shriveled. It will reveal the tightly packed seeds in there. Exposing them will help them dry further. When the back of the flower turns brown, the seeds are ready to harvest.

Letting the Head Dry on the Stem

dried sunflower head
Image credits: Matthias Böckel via Pixabay

If you’d prefer to let the flowers dry out naturally on the plant or you don’t have a good, dry place to hang them to dry, leaving them on the plant is perfectly fine, too.

Keep a close eye on the plant. When you see the calyx start to turn brown, check to see if the tiny petals in the center of the flower head are withering or drying out. Once they are, scrape them off and reveal the seeds underneath.

Once the back of the flower turns dark brown and the seeds have plumped, the seeds are ready to harvest. Grasp the stem about 6 inches from the flower head and cut off the flower with pruning shears. Cut off multiple flowers at once to make harvesting easier. Scrape off the remaining center petals.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Wooden bowl filled with sunflower seeds
Image credits: allybally4b via Pixabay

Now for the good part: harvesting sunflower seeds!

Place a large-mouthed container on a table or other surface at a reasonable height for yourself as your stand to harvest. A 5-gallon bucket is great for this!

Wearing gloves, hold two flower heads over the bucket and rub them together. The seeds will fall into the bucket but may need a little help, thus the gloves.

Alternatively, you can use your hands. Wear gloves for this, and rub the seeds off yourself. To make this process easier, break the flower head into smaller sections and do them one at a time.

Then, remove the sunflowers from the container and sift out the debris from the seeds. I like to lay them out on a paper towel and check them over for broken shells, etc., before considering the job “done.”

Enjoy the Sunflower Seed Harvest

bird snacking on sunflower seeds in a bird feeder
Image credits: analogicus via Pixabay

Now that you’ve grown and harvested those amazing, folic acid-rich sunflower seeds, it’s time to enjoy! You can eat the seeds raw (my favorite way to nosh on them) or enjoy some roasted sunflower seeds

Some of the seeds you can save for planting next year. The other ones, you can put in your bird feeders as the season starts to cool. Be sure to store them in airtight containers if you want to leave them for later.

Whatever you do with them, you’ll find that harvesting your sunflower seeds is a unique pleasure unlike any other you’ve experienced.