Sunflowers—those large, happy blooms that can brighten up any garden. People enjoy them not only for their aesthetics, but also for their delicious and edible seeds.
Sunflower seeds are one of the healthiest snacks available in terms of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. And roasting them is surprisingly easy!
But what about the rest of the process? You might be wondering how to harvest sunflower seeds, and we are here to walk you through it, step-by-step!
When Do You Know It Is Time To Harvest Sunflower Seeds?
The first thing to consider when learning how to harvest sunflower seeds is the timing. When should you do it, and what are the signs that the seeds are ready? Let’s take a closer look at the process of harvesting sunflower seeds.
Sunflowers seeds are generally ready to harvest in the very late summer months or early fall—this can be from August to October, depending on your location. The sunflowers need to mature completely and dry somewhat before the seeds are ready, which is about 10 to 20 weeks from planting.
The most prevalent sign lies at the back of the flower’s head—or the calyx—when it turns a golden-brown color.
You will also know it’s time to harvest your sunflower seeds when recognizing a few key signs in your garden, including:
- Flowers Drooping—The sunflower heads begin to droop with the weight of the ripened seeds.
- Hard, Striped Seeds—If you can see the seeds and they are black with a white stripe down the middle instead of pure white, it’s likely they are ready to be plucked.
- Leaves Turn Yellow—When the leaves and other foliage turn yellow, it’s a sign that the sunflower is on its way out and ready for harvest.
- Seed Petals Have Fallen Off—The little petals that form the soft, dark interior of the sunflower will dry and fall off when it’s time to harvest the seeds, so watch for that!
How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds?
Now comes the fun part! Harvesting your sunflower seeds might seem daunting, but it’s surprisingly simple and even enjoyable.
Let’s review some methods for getting the job done efficiently when learning how to harvest sunflower seeds, both of which involve the essential step of letting the flower head dry out.
Drying Sunflowers On The Stem For Harvest
If you leave the sunflowers alone in your garden, they will dry out of their own accord without having to make space to dry them inside. However, this means you are more likely to need to stave off the wildlife that likes to snack on sunflower seeds, too.
Try using a brown paper bag secured around the sunflower head with a twist tie to deter seed scavengers. Alternatively, cheesecloth, mesh, or netting will help, but it shouldn’t be made of a material that can suffocate the plant. In a pinch, you can even use a plastic bag with small air holes cut into it.
Once the backs of your sunflower blooms have turned brown and the seeds are hard and striped, you can remove the heads. Trim about 4 inches below the head, and strip the seeds into a container by rubbing your palm firmly over the seeds. They should dislodge fairly easily, and chaff can be blown away.
You can even rub the faces of two dry sunflowers together over a bowl to let friction do the work for you and loosen the seeds!
Drying Sunflowers Manually For Harvest
Instead of tempting wild critters by leaving ripening sunflowers outside, you can bring them indoors when the seeds are about ⅔ of the way to maturity.
Cut about 4 to 6 inches below the sunflower head, then wrap it in a brown paper bag and secure it with a twist tie. Bring it inside and suspend it upside down in a warm but well-ventilated area for a few weeks.
This lets you put your sunflowers in a safe place and monitor them at your own pace, before harvesting the seeds in the same manner—rub the seeds out into a bowl with your palm and blow the chaff away, or rub the heads together to help dislodge the seeds.
How Do You Preserve Sunflower Seeds?
You don’t even have to roast sunflower seeds immediately to preserve them. If you want to use them for planting next year, you should leave them to dry completely before storing them in an airtight jar with 2 tablespoons of powdered milk separated from the seeds to keep them moisture-free.
Alternatively, sunflower seeds will last for about 3 to 4 months in a jar within the pantry, and up to a year when stored in the fridge or freezer.
What Can You Make With Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are some of the tastiest and healthiest snacks you can grow in your garden, and preparing them with a variety of different recipes is surprisingly easy and delicious.
Your sunflower seeds don’t need to be the star of the show when cooking or baking—you can incorporate them in several ways that might not be immediately obvious!
Try the following methods of adding sunflower seeds to many meals when harvested from your garden.
- Add To Bread.
- Bake Into Bars.
- Blend Them Into Burgers.
- Crumble Inside Crackers.
- Mix Into Granola.
- Pop Into Pesto.
- Spread Over Baked Treats.
- Sprinkle Them On Vegetables.
- Top Your Tacos.
- Tuck Within Tarts.
Apart from these clever ways to add the crunch of sunflower into a variety of your meals and baked goods, gardeners can also use home-grown seeds to create a few popular sunflower-based items. Let’s take a look at some more scrumptious sunflower seed recipes!
How To Roast Sunflower Seeds
The simplest way to prepare sunflower seeds is by cleaning them, popping them into the oven, and turning them into little roasted nutty delights.
The following method is for salted, roasted sunflower seeds—but if you don’t like having salt on your snacks, you can simply rinse off the seeds straight from the garden and roast them at the same temperature for about half the time!
- Preheat your oven to 400°F and then prepare the seeds for roasting. Take 1 cup of raw sunflower seeds that have been harvested still in the shell and 2 – 2 ½ tablespoons of kosher or table salt.
- Combine these in 1 quart of water in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Then, reduce the heat to simmer the pot and allow it to cook for 15 – 20 minutes more.
- Drain the seeds and spread them onto a baking tray in one layer. Pop the tray onto the top rack of the oven and roast for 10 – 15 minutes, watching to ensure they don’t burn.
- Once they are dry and crisp enough that the shells begin to crack, you can take the sunflower seeds out and allow them to cool before storing them in an airtight container.
These roasted sunflower seeds should last for about 4 or 5 months when kept in the pantry, and 1 year in the fridge or freezer.
How To Make Sunflower Butter
For a creamy, protein-filled spread, try sunflower butter in your next breakfast. These seeds are bursting with nutrients, including magnesium, iron, and vitamins, so turning them into a healthy butter is a great idea, with the following steps!
- Shell 2 cups of sunflower seeds. This is easily done by putting them in a large freezer bag and firmly pressing them with a rolling pin. The pressure should be enough to crack the shell and allow you to pull it off, without turning the seed meat into dust.
- Roast the shelled sunflower seeds at 350°F for about 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Add the seeds to a blender or food processor with 2 – 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup for sweetness, and blend until smooth. It will take a little while as the consistency changes, so blend in 2 – 3 minute intervals to monitor how runny it gets!
Serve this butter on toast, crackers, or use it in salad dressings and other sauces. You can put it in an airtight container and store it for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, or 4 months in the freezer.
Best Products For Growing Sunflowers
Now that we are familiar with the process of how to harvest sunflower seeds from your own garden and what to make with them, let’s delve into some of the best products on the market for planting and nurturing your sunflower crop.
1. NOW Natural Foods, Certified Organic Sunflower Seeds — Best Overall Sunflower Seeds
A great source of protein, these sunflower seeds are perfect for snacking or planting in your garden. They are organically sourced even non-GMO certified, adding more nutrients into your day.
Style: Raw sunflower seeds
Application: Snack, pet, or garden use
Size: 16 ounces
Treatment Area: About13 servings per container
Good things come in small packages, and the same is true for NOW Natural Foods’ sunflower seeds! All-organic, GMO-free, and packed full of nutrients, protein, and fiber, it’s hard to go wrong with these seeds.
- Organic and GMO-free
- Hulled for easy access
- Great for people and pets alike
- Customers have found issues with proper sprouting
- Taste can be somewhat stale for eating
2. Jonsteen Company Giant Sunflower Kit — Runner Up Sunflower Seeds
High-quality seeds for huge sunflowers, your seed harvest will be bigger than ever with Jonsteen Company’s sunflower kit. These seeds cultivate giant-sized sunflowers sporting deep yellow petals and tall, dense stocks, as well as an abundance of seeds.
Style: Sunflower seeds
Application: Manual planting
Size: 4.6 ounces
Treatment Area: Several hundred seeds for full coverage
If you are looking to plant sunflowers in your garden for enjoyment and harvest, these giant sunflower seeds are a great option. Plus, this kit comes with everything you need to cultivate your full garden of happy, yellow blossoms, meaning that you don’t even have to be a horticulturist to enjoy an expanse of sunflowers!
- Heartily-growing sunflower plants that are easy to maintain
- Plenty of seed growth for harvesting
- Very tall, at up to 10 feet in height
- Some batches have issues with blooming
- Must keep the soil moist for the first week of planting
3. South 40 Snacks Giant-Sized Sunflower Seeds — Best Sunflower Seeds For The Price
These jumbo-sized sunflower seeds are perfect for snacking on, especially when on the go. With a resealable bag, these giant seeds are packed with protein and other nutrients essential to your daily health.
Style: Sunflower seeds
Application: Snack, pet, or garden use
Size: 8 ounces
Treatment Area: About 4 servings per container
For anyone looking to invest in a snack that promotes good health, these giant-sized sunflower seeds from South 40 Snacks are for you. Still in the shell but incredibly easy to crack, they make a great snack for home, travel, or even just relaxing with a movie.
- Great price for the size
- Jumbo-sized, giant sunflower seeds
- Perfect for Keto and low-carbohydrate diets.
- Some customers have found the seeds to be dry and crumbly
- Seed sprouting can be difficult
Amazing Tools For Sunflowers
1. KLOX Biodegradable Seed Starter Kit — Best Sunflower Germination Tool
For a seed starter set complete with pots, trays, and tools, this all-in-one seedling pack is great for beginning your garden right. It includes biodegradable peat pots, germination trays, and plant markers ready to help your plants thrive.
Style: Biodegradable seed starter kit
Material: Peat moss, PVC, and plastic
Size: 39 peat pots, 4 cell peat moss trays, 3 PVC growing trays, 2 dibbers, 40 plant markers, 1 pair of gardening gloves
For smooth and painless germination, this complete starter kit takes the hassle out of coaxing your plants to life. It includes environmentally-friendly pots and trays that also encourage root growth and helps avoid transplant shock.
- Complete set for planting
- Biodegradable and eco-friendly
- Sturdy containers for stable growth
- Biodegradable pots are not able to be reused after planting
2. Fani’s 3 Piece Stainless Steel Nut Crackers For All Nuts — Best Manual Sunflower Seed Shelling Tool
Style: Nut and seed cracker
Material: Stainless steel
Size: About 3.5 inches long
If you have ever had issues with cracking open a difficult nut or seed, this tool is the perfect item for you. Made with heavy-duty stainless steel and including three sizes of nut-cracking slots, you can tackle a wide variety of tough nuts and seeds, including sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, and many more.
- Easy-to-use nut and seed cracker
- 3 sizes for universal cracking
- Stainless steel with non-slip grip
- Manual tool might lead to skin pinching
- Some customers noted theirs broke after repeated use
3. Smart Melon Seed Opener Machine — Best Automated Sunflower Seed Shelling Tool
Style: Automated seed peeling machine
Material: Plastic and stainless steel
Size: Unit size is 2.5 x 2.7 x 2.8 inches
Useful for a wide variety of seeds and small nuts with pesky shells, this machine uses optical detection and sensitive mechanics to crack open your snacks for you. It saves your teeth and even uses detection to avoid cracking bad seeds or your finger!
- High-torque seed peeling
- Rechargeable unit with polymer lithium battery
- Detection chip to avoid finger injuries
- Some nuts are more difficult to successfully crack
- Automatic seed detection can be flaky
Finally, we should dig into some of the most common questions that other people have about how to harvest sunflower seeds, and what to do with them!
When Should I Harvest Sunflower Seeds?
As the season comes to a close around July to October, your sunflower seed heads will begin to dry out as the seeds mature. It will likely take around 2 weeks for the seeds to be ready for harvest.
How Do You Get The Seeds Out Of Sunflowers?
Friction is your friend when it comes to dislodging sunflower seeds. Either use the palm of your hand to scrub the seeds until they come loose, or rub one face of a sunflower against another for the same effect.
How Do You Know When Sunflower Seeds Are Ready?
You should look for signs that your sunflowers are ready to harvest, like the head drooping on the stem due to seed weight, and the calyx turning a brown-yellow color. Also, if you notice animals eating the seeds, it’s likely time to harvest!
Do All Sunflowers Produce Edible Seeds?
While all sunflowers grow seeds that are safe for human consumption as long as they have not gone bad, it tends to be easier to eat seeds from sunflower hybrids that are bred for edibility. This includes Titan, Sunzilla, and Giganteus as edible sunflower types.
Can You Eat Sunflower Seeds Raw?
If you don’t feel like roasting them, sunflower seeds are edible when raw. Just peel off the outer husk and enjoy a vast amount of health benefits from the protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals that sunflower seeds contain!
Sunflowers produce some of the best seeds in terms of health benefits and versatility in the kitchen, and they are surprisingly easy to cultivate and harvest.
With some simple harvesting techniques and delicious recipes, your garden can become a productive plot for sunflowers.
Harness the power of growth in your garden and start your own crop of sunflowers—you can enjoy their vibrant colors all summer long, and the delicious seeds in the fall!