Comprehensive Guide on How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Helianthus plants offer gorgeous yellow blooms throughout the summer. During the fall months, they showcase large heads filled with ripe kernels. If you are growing them in your garden, learn how to harvest sunflower seeds.

Sunflower seed harvesting has been part of Native American traditions for centuries. They extracted the oil by boiling the flower heads as well as enjoyed the kernels both baked and raw. 

Moreover, sunflower seeds are loaded with potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, phosphorus, linoleic fatty acids, and vitamin E. 

Knowing this fact, you should grow the plants and harvest the kernels yourself. 

The Best Time to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

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Before learning how to harvest sunflower seeds, you must know the reproductive structure of the plant first. It has a center disk that contains tiny florets. They are surrounded by huge ray-like flower petals. 

Each of the tiny inflorescences can pollinate itself and generate one seed, stored in its outer hull. The kernel casing comes in either striped and black. It depends on the types of sunflowers you grow.  

You probably think sunflower in your backyard garden is only one. It consists of tiny flowers congregated together. That’s why they look like a huge stunning bloom. 

Sunflowers display their brilliant blooms and adorn the garden during summertime, around 3 to 4 ½ months after you set the seeds into the soil. Although, each variety can be different from one another.

In the fall, the sunflowers hang their big heads full of seeds. The petals also start to wither and look dead. Additionally, they change color from yellow to brown. 

Harvesting kernels is such an easy job. Be sure you do it at the right time. 

If you harvest sunflowers too soon, there will be only lots of seed coats. They usually contain little meat. 

On the other hand, picking the heads late makes soft kernels overly dry. This allows animals to munch on them happily, too.

You have to harvest your sunflowers when the green calyx (head base) turns yellowish-brown. Their outer petals get dry and drop.  Additionally, the ripe seeds are normally plump. 

As the flowers begin to fade and shrivel, be sure you check the sunflower heads meticulously. 

The small petals in the central disk normally dry out. With a light hand-scraping, they will fall and reveal the seeds.  

Furthermore, you can either let the seeds completely ripen on the sunflower stem or cut the heads off when the two-thirds of the kernels are mature. You can decide what best. 

Drying the Flower Heads Yourself

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If you allow the kernels to ripen on the stalk, the birds and squirrels will enjoy them. 

After that, they drop plenty of seeds on the ground. This cause volunteer sunflowers to pop up the next summer. 

Another thing that would happen is the animals like deer and field mice will eat the sunflower seeds and leave nothing for you. Do not forget to put this into consideration. 

Speaking of how to harvest sunflower seeds, you must watch the calyx closely. 

Pick the head when its color turns yellow. Cut a fairly long stalk for about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 10 cm) using a well-honed knife or tree pruner. 

Moreover, remove the foliage on the stem. There might be pests hiding in the leaves. 

With a twine, fasten a few stalks together. Then, hang the flower heads in a partially sunny area. Be sure they face down. 

Normally, the drying process takes about 1 to 3 weeks. When the calyx turns brown, that means you can harvest the kernels. Cover the head with a paper bag. 

Don’t use plastic, otherwise, it will get moldy due to moisture buildup.

Drying Heads on the Stalk and How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

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In case your space is small, let the heads dry in the flower garden. Wrap the paper bag or fine netting around them for keeping out the wildlife. Do this as the sunflower petals begin to wilt. 

Once the calyx (green head base) has turned yellowish-brown, check out the kernels to see whether they are mature or not. 

Those bits should become plump as well. If you find any have fallen off, this suggests the seeds are ripe. 

In general, the seeds can be harvested at any time during July-October. The harvest season greatly depends on the sowing date, sunflower variety, and growing zone. 

Finally, we dived into how to harvest sunflower seeds. When the kernels are fully mature on the stem, they will start to loosen. Cut the stalk piece about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) below the flower head. 

Moreover, you can cut through the sunflower stem with sharp pruners, scissors, or a knife. 

Cutting off the piece of stalk several inches below the head is a great option. This allows for easier handling when removing the kernels. 

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds for Roasting

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Without a doubt, separating the kernels from the head is one of the most satisfying parts. Whether you wear gloves or not, de-seeding the bloom is always fun. 

Using a knife or your thumbs, rub the dried petal remnants from the central disk gently. They look like fluffy debris or light greenish-yellow flower buds protecting the kernels. 

Most gardeners agree on the Helianthus plant harvest time, but they have their preferences on how to harvest sunflower seeds. 

Generally, there are two popular ways of harvesting the kernels. Neither method offers a bigger yield. 

Before you remove the kernels from the head, prepare a container or bucket. It is really useful to catch the ripe seeds. 

The first method is placing the head over a container. Then, use your hand for scraping off the seeds. There will be petals as well as other sunflower stuff in it along with the kernels. You can get rid of them later. 

Moreover, the second method is to rub two mature flower heads together over a large container or bucket. 

Whether you choose the first method or the latter option, harvesting sunflower seeds is always easy peasy. 

After knowing how to harvest sunflower seeds, it is time to enjoy them. Some growers love to eat the raw kernels right off the head. They are earthy, tasty, and nutritious. 

You don’t like eating the kernels raw? Roasting them is the best way to go for certain. They are more flavorful than the unroasted ones. That’s the reason you should learn how to dry sunflower seeds.

Before baking the seeds, soak them in the water overnight. Once they get soaked, drain them.

Then, pick out the unwanted sunflower bits. Lastly, dry the kernels in the newspaper as well as paper towels for about 4-7 hours or overnight. 

How to Roast Sunflower Seeds

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Make sure you understand how to harvest sunflower seeds and dry them. If not, they won’t taste good. 

Without further ado, here is the easy-to-follow unsalted kernel recipe.

Baking Unshelled Sunflower Seeds (Unsalted)

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200° Celcius. 
  • Spread the seeds evenly on a large roasting pan.
  • Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. 
  • Check the seeds to ensure the hulls can be cracked open with ease. 
  • If not, put the kernels back in for about 2 minutes. 
  • Keep adding a few minutes to the baking time. Check them frequently until they turn slightly brown. 
  • Once the seeds are done, take them out of your oven.

Roasting Unshelled Sunflower Kernels (Salted)

As long as you know how to harvest sunflower seeds the right way, baking them won’t be a challenging job. 

Moreover, salted kernels are more delicious than plain ones. If they win your heart, follow this recipe.

  • Add 1 cup of sunflower seeds and 2-4 tablespoons salt to 1-quart water (about 950 ml). Bring the mixture to a boil. 
  • Lower the stove heat. Simmer for 15 minutes. 
  • Run the seeds through a strainer. Allow them to dry.
  • Spread them on a roasting pan. 
  • Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

Baking Shelled Sunflower Kernels

If you are planning on learning how to harvest sunflower seeds and roast the shelled kernels, just keep reading. 

Shelling them might seem intimidating, but this keeps yourself from cracking each one using your teeth. 

  • Prepare 1 plastic bag, 1 bowl of water, and 1 stainless steel rolling pin.  
  • Put ½ cup of unshelled sunflower seeds in the bag and then seal it. 
  • Lay the bag flat. After that, crack the kernels with the stainless steel rolling pin. 
  • Pour the kernels into the water. The heavier seeds will stay at the bottom, while the broken sunflower hulls keep afloat. Use a spoon to remove them.
  • Drain and lay the seeds on the paper towels. Let them dry. 
  • Spread the kernels on the baking sheet. Roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Stir them frequently. 

Foolproof Sunflower Butter Recipe

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After you learn how to harvest sunflower seeds, then shell and roast them, consider making the butter yourself. 

It is such a scrumptious peanut alternative either on toasted bread and pancakes. 

  • Add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 ¼ cups shelled sunflower seeds (roasted), and 2 tablespoons sweetener of your choice to a powerful blender or food processor. For the vegan version, opt for brown sugar or agave syrup.
  • Blitz them up at low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl sides every minute. The mixture is probably a bit dry because the seeds have not released the natural oils yet. 
  • Increase the blender speed to medium. Then, blender for 3-5 minutes. Make sure the sunflower butter is super smooth and creamy.
  • Put the homemade sunflower butter in an airtight glass container. 
  • Store the container in the refrigerator and consume within 1-2 weeks. If you place it in the freezer, the butter can last for about 4 months. 

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds for Planting

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Talking about how to harvest sunflower seeds for re-planting, you can use the same method. Then, rinse the kernels and pick out the unwanted bits. 

Moreover, line the shallow box with paper towels and newspaper. Place the raw kernels on them to dry overnight. 

Once the kernels have dried, put them in a closed mason jar. Then, place it in a cool, dry spot until you are planning on planting sunflower seeds next season.

Label the jar with the sunflower cultivar. Do not forget to date it, too. The raw seeds can last for 1 year. 

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds for Birds

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When it comes to how to harvest sunflower seeds for birds, bear in mind that you must dry them completely. This makes the kernels last longer in an airtight jar. 

Wash and rinse the sunflower kernels first. Next, scatter them in the newspaper as well as paper towels in one layer.

Furthermore, add the space between the seeds. Allow them to dry for 5-7 hours or overnight. The longer the drying process, the drier they will be. 

Aside from harvesting the seeds for replanting, you can save some for your feathered visitors. Just add them to the bird feeder. 

Sunflower kernels work as the winter feed. They keep the local birds happy and healthy during the cold months. The feeder itself makes your feathered friends feel at home. 

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds and Store Them

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The fresh, unshelled sunflower kernels will last in the freezer for about 1 year, while in the pantry they can be used within 2 to 3 months. 

Furthermore, the roasted, unshelled seeds normally will last for 1 year in the freezer and 4-5 months in the kitchen pantry. 

The roasted, shelled kernels will last for 1 year in the freezer, too. However, their shelf life in the kitchen pantry is only about 3-4 months.

Proper storing is as important as knowing how to harvest sunflower seeds. 

Put the raw, unshelled kernels in a mason jar or paper bag. Feel free to add silica gel. Another option is to store them in the freezer-safe glass container. 

We hope you find our complete guide on how to harvest sunflower seeds helpful. Since Helianthus plants provide double rewards: impressive petals and nutty goodness, so there is no reason not to grow them.

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