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How to Process Sunflowers for Seed Saving or Roasting

Updated on April 15, 2020
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a gardening enthusiast. She has a green thumb and always plants a variety of items for harvesting during gardening season.

Growing your own sunflowers is a fun and rewarding task! Sunflowers are beautiful against any landscape, easy to plant and grow. Sunflowers will attract all manner of wildlife such as butterflies and even birds. The hardest part of growing and harvesting our sunflowers is being sure to harvest them before birds get to them.
My family enjoys planting them and harvesting then year after year. Not only for their beauty but also for the food we can harvest from them. We get not only beautiful flowers during the growing season, but you also get to harvest the seeds as well. We save them for planting the following year, as well as saving some to roast for snacking too.

I have seen many people complain to me over the years that they waste the seeds. Most folks think it is too difficult to process the sunflower heads to removed them. It takes me no time at all to remove the seeds and save them. This is not something you have to practice at to get fast. It is simple and depending on the size of your harvest can be a fast task to complete as well. My son is 4 years old and even he has a blast helping us harvest the seeds.

We always save some for planting again during the flowing season, and we also save them to eat as well. Once the seeds are removed you can save the flower heads. Flower heads can be used for an alternative to a scrubbing sponge! They work great on cleaning everything from showers, patios and even the tires on your vehicles! Or you can toss them in a compost bin when you finish harvesting the seeds.

Step 1: Harvesting Sunflower Heads

The most important part is knowing when to harvest the sunflower heads. Waiting too long means your sunflowers will not be good for roasting if you plan on eating them. Harvest them by cutting them off the stalks when the petals are becoming dry and start to fall.

Step 2: Gather Items and Create a Work Station

The only item you really need to do this is a large plastic tote and a large bowl. You could skip the tote if your doing this outside. For me it is easier to set up on my dining table and use a tote and a large stainless steel mixing bowl.

Step 3: Cleaning The Seeds For Removal

Sunflower seeds reside in the center of the sunflower. They have tiny little sort of petals attached to each that you will want to remove. This is simple, hold the flower head inside the large tote and rub your hand over the seeds. These are very simple to remove, and take very little effort. The tote helps to control the mess.

Continue the process until all you see is the remaining seeds. Do this too all the sunflower heads, it is easier to process them all at once.

Step 4: Removing The Sunflower Seeds

Once you have 'cleaned' the flower heads and are left with only the seeds visible in the center of the flower heads you can begin removing the seeds. Hold your sunflower heads over a large mixing bowl (the largest you have is the best choice).

Use one hand to force the Sunflower head edges to touch on the backside. This allows the seeds to be easier to manipulate for removal. Use your other hand to firmly run across the seeds. Seeds will begin to pop out and land in your mixing bowl. You may also find that some may shoot across the room as well.

There maybe inch worms or other small insects that greet you as you remove the seeds. This is not a cause for worry, your sunflower seeds are fine. Continue to rub your hand accross the sunflower heads until you have removed all the seeds. Some areas will be tighter. If you meet too much resistance you can change your grip on the sunflower head to get those spots to loosen up.

Step 5: Storing Sunflower Seeds

If you want to store sunflower seeds for planting the following year. Simply rinse them then spread flat on cardboard or a cookie sheet lined with parchment to dry. Allow them to dry a full 24 hours. Then store in a dry airtight container in a cool place until you are ready to plant again.

How to Protect Sunflowers from Birds and Other Wildlife

We often battle wildlife when it comes to growing foods here at home. A few years running we lost sunflowers and even our cherry harvest to birds. Sunflowers are no exception and you will likely need to protect them. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels are often found trying to steal our sunflower seeds. There are items on the market geared towards thwarting the thieves. I find a simple cost effective method to be best.

When you noticed wildlife around your seeds take action. You would be surprised how fast they can completely gulp up your potential harvest. Taking a netting bag, or any form of fabric with small wholes and place over the flower heads. Attach with a string or whatever you may have handy. This allows airflow and sunshine, but the wholes are not large enough for wildlife to eat through.

If you cannot find mesh gym bags or similar material. You may try anything from onion bags from the market to pantyhose. All you need is a breathable layer that will cover the flower head. It must still allow sunshine and air through. Anything that does not allow for airflow will have you regretting using it. As lack of airflow can cause mold and other issues. This will potentially ruin your harvest.

Benefits of Growing and Saving Sunflower Seeds

Growing and saving sunflower seeds is a great family activity. It is one of the flowers we grow year after year. A few sunflowers will yield a large amount of seeds for your family to enjoy! Sunflowers can create a border or fence of flowers. If you want to create a little privacy around your patio or pool.

We plant sunflowers around our house. Our home get's full sun and there is little to no natural shade as the house sits atop a hill in a clearing. This has created some hot temperatures in our home during summer months. Our house was built well before central air was created. So we use sunflowers to create a natural shade around the house. This helps limit the amount of sunshine that comes in the windows. Effectively keeping the house much cooler than the years we did not plant. Sunflowers are a fast growing flower. They grow tall enough to cover the downstairs windows before the hot summer months.

Planting sunflowers around the house also gives us a nice way to watch nature. Sunflowers draw the attention of pollinators and birds. Being able to watch them through our windows allows us a much closer view of nature. My son really enjoys pointing out the birds that come to visit the sunflowers. It gives me a chance to teach him various types of birds as they come to sample the seeds.

It is a little labor intensive to cultivate the seeds. However, sunflowers are one of the easier items to gather and process that we grow on our farm. If you enjoy new learning activities with your children and family oriented projects then growing sunflowers is a great choice. Sunflowers are among some of the easiest to grow and the largest as well. They make a beautiful bouquet of flowers if you enjoy keeping fresh flowers in your home or even in a vase on a patio table.

At home or on the go sunflower seeds make great snacks.
At home or on the go sunflower seeds make great snacks.

Sunflower Seeds are a Nutritious Snack

The labor of savings seeds is often thought too hard by people. There is very little financial cost involve with growing sunflower seeds. It is amazing the amount of seeds you get from just 1 flower when processing. While I do enjoy the lovely flowers and watching them grow. At the end of the day this is a healthy snack that cost virtually nothing to provide for my family.

Sunflower seeds may not fit into a keto lifestyle as you will find around 6.5 carbs in 1/4 a cup. They are packed with protein and vitamins though! Since we spend so much time outside during the summer months, we keep them with us. Sunflower seeds are a great way to get an energy boost after a busy day tending animals, mending fences or just taking a hike.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Cynthia Hoover


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    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 

      19 months ago from Osaka, Japan

      Excellent directions with beautiful pictures! Quick question: are there any varieties of sunflowers that do better than others?

    • Cynthia Hoover profile imageAUTHOR

      Cynthia Hoover 

      2 years ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Victoria Van Ness, thank you I am glad you enjoyed it! We have a lot of fun growing and harvesting Sunflowers year after year!

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 

      2 years ago from Fountain, CO

      Loved this informative article!


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