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Harvesting Sunflower Seeds! How To Harvest, Dry & Roast Seeds

There’s no doubt that harvesting sunflower seeds is a great way to extend the joy you get from growing such cheerful plants.

Sunflowers are one of the best plants to add to your property. Not only do they look stunning standing tall amongst your other plants and flowers, but they are also great for attracting pollinators and songbirds to your garden area as well. 

They grow easily from direct sowing seeds and can even be transplanted to different locations in your garden. Once they are established, they can even self-sow for future years. 

A pile or roasted sunflower seeds
There’s nothing like a delicious and healthy snack of homegrown, roasted sunflower seeds!

An additional bonus to growing sunflowers is that you can harvest their seeds as well instead of allowing them to self-sow. Whether you plan on saving seeds to plant and grow the following year or want to feed them to your chickens or maybe you want to roast them for a delicious snack, sunflowers are where it’s at!

But there are a few tips to keep in mind no matter what you plan to do with the seeds. With the simple tips given below, you will be able to make the most of your sunflowers – and never have to purchase new seeds again!  

Harvesting Your Sunflower Seeds

No matter what you plan to do with the seeds in the end, the following tips are all basically the same. 

Pick The Right Sunflower Variety  – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

If your goal with growing sunflowers is to harvest the seeds in the end, then you need to keep that in mind when choosing your sunflower variety. Not all plants are sufficient for harvesting seeds – especially if your end goal is for human consumption.

Some varieties produce what’s considered to be oil seeds. These types of seeds are better for feeding to birds or for processing into sunflower oil. While you can eat oil seeds, they typically aren’t the best choice. They can also go rancid quickly and then cause digestive issues. Black Russian is a great choice for oil seeds.

Before you can harvest sunflower seeds, you need healthy plants.
Having a great sunflower seed harvest starts with proper growing conditions and healthy plants.

Other varieties are bred to produce seeds for consumption – typically with striped seeds. These seeds are much better for human consumption. They are typically larger and more suited for eating.  Mammoth grey stripe is a great option for human consumption.

Care During Growth – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Start your plants off right by being sure to plant them in fertile, well-draining soil. Be sure to grow them in a location with full sun and away from harsh winds that can damage taller varieties.

Space plants apart based on the variety’s specifications. This allows for plenty of airflow and helps prevent diseases like powdery mildew, downy mildew, and rust. 

Be sure to check out the article, “How To Grow Sunflowers” to find out how to best plant, grow, and maintain your sunflower plants so they can have the best possible head start in order to produce the most seeds available. 

Knowing When To Harvest  – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Knowing just the right time to harvest sunflower seeds can be a bit tricky to get down. Harvest the seed heads too early and your seeds won’t have much meat inside. Harvest them too late and chances are that the birds and animals will have beat you to the punch. 

A group of sunflowers starting to dry out.
Drying sunflowers heads will start to droop to the ground and the outer petals will start to dry and fall out.

The best time to start harvesting seeds is when the outer petals and leaves have started to dry up and begin to fall. The entire seed head will actually start to droop and hang down toward the ground. 

Another good indicator is the base of the seed head. This area is called a calyx and is usually bright green. As it starts to dry, it will turn yellow and eventually brown. 

Also, take a look at the seeds themselves. They should look plump and full. If birds start to be an issue early on, you can cover seed heads with paper bags or mesh netting when the petals begin to wilt. 

Another option is to cut the flower stalk before it has a chance to dry out naturally. Simple cut the seed head and about 6-8 inches of stalk attached. Remove as many of the true flowers as possible to help promote drying. 

Hang the seed heads upside down in a dry location that has plenty of airflow. Be sure to choose a spot that is safe from birds and pests. After about 2-3 weeks, the seeds should be ready to harvest. 

Note About Sunflower Heads

When you look at a sunflower head, there are actually faux petals that surround the seed head. These petals actually do not have anything to do with the pollinating of the actual sunflower seeds. These are the petals to watch for drying and falling out to help indicate when seeds are close to being ready for harvesting. 

These tiny flowers, sometimes called chaff, are the ones that need to be pollinated on a flower head.

If you look closely, you can see that there are tiny true flowers attached to each and every seed. They are the petals that the bees and other pollinators are after.

Harvesting Seeds  – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Whether you allow the flower heads to fully ripen naturally or in your spare garage, the steps for harvesting the seeds are the same. 

Take the dryed-out seed head and gently rub your hands over the true petals to dislodge them from the seeds. Blow away any remaining petals. 

Once you remove the petals, hold the seed head over a large bowl or bucket. Gently use your fingers to dislodge the seeds. Wearing gloves is usually a good idea since removing the seeds can sometimes be a bit rough on your fingertips, especially if you have a lot to harvest.

If seeds do not come off of the head easily, then they might need a few more days to dry. Check on them again in 2 to 3 days and try again then. 

Storing Seeds  – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

If you harvested your seeds to feed to birds or chickens, you can use them right away. But in order to save seeds for planting in your garden next year, you need to fully dry them before storing them. This prevents spoiling or even early germination if the conditions are right.

A bird eating birdseed.
Sunflower seeds that are for birds and other wildlife can be used right away.

The dryer the seeds are, the better and longer they will keep. Spread out seeds in a single layer on baking sheets that have been lined with paper towels or newspapers. Keep the sheets in a dry location that will not attract pests or birds. 

Once they are completely dry (usually after just a few days), store seeds in an air-tight container. A mason jar, plastic rigid storage container, zip lock bag, etc. are all great ways to store dry seeds. Be sure to label and date the seeds for future reference. 

For more in-depth information about storing seeds for future use, be sure to check out “How To Store Extra Seeds Properly.”  

Roasting Sunflower Seeds – Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

If you want to keep seeds for consumption, this is the section for you! While the seeds can be eaten raw, they are most flavourful when they are roasted. 

You can either choose to add salt or roast them unsalted. For both, get your oven preheating to 300º Fahrenheit while you prepare the seeds. 

Roasting Unsalted Seeds 

For unsalted seeds, run the seeds under water and pat them to dry. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. 

Once your oven is preheated, place the baking sheet on a center rack in your oven. Roast the seeds for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the shells are slightly browned. 

harvesting sunflower seeds is a great way to enjoy a healthy snack.
Sunflower seeds – salted or not – will keep for a long time when stored properly.

You can do a simple test to see if they are done or not. Let one seed cool slightly, then attempt to crack. It should easily split down the middle if it is done. Allow seeds to cool and store them in an air-tight container for a couple of months. 

Roasting Salted Seeds

While salted seeds take just a little bit longer, they are well worth it. Start by soaking the seeds overnight in a large bowl with a mixture of ¼ cup of dissolved salt and 2 cups of water. You can double this recipe if you have a lot of seeds to soak. Be sure the solution covers all seeds. 

In the morning, drain off the water but do not rinse the seeds. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry. Once seeds are dry, cook like you would unsalted seeds (35-40 minutes or until they crack open easily). Store in an air-tight container and enjoy!

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