How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds for Planting, Roasting and Feeding Birds

Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers are a staple of the summer garden. They are tall and regal, looking down at the rest of the flowers and offering a source of food and nectar to any pollinator who stops by. Also a delight for the gardener, their grandiose blooms make a cheerful statement in almost any sunny spot. At the end of the season, it's easy to harvest sunflower seeds to dry for re-planting, baking up for a tasty snack and re-purposing into suet cakes to feed back to the birds in the winter months.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Field of Sunflowers
Sunflowers are ready to harvest when their foliage turns yellow, the petals die down and the seeds look plump.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Cutting

This is undoubtedly the easiest and quickest part of the process. Once your sunflowers have died back completely and the backs of the blooms are brown, it’s time to harvest. You’ll also notice the seeds are plump and somewhat loose. Cut the stalk with sharp scissors or pruners, about one foot down from the flower head, and place in a container that can catch any loose seeds.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Cutting the stalks
Cut the sunflower stalk about a foot below the bloom.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Hanging To Dry

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: drying

If you're worried about the birds eating all of your sunflower seeds before you get the chance to harvest, tie a paper bag over the blooms right in the garden. You can also cut the stalks before they are ready and hang them indoors to dry.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: drying
If the sunflowers aren't ready yet, tie the stalks with twine.

I cut my sunflower blooms and noticed that several of them weren’t quite ready for harvest yet. It wasn’t a problem – I simply tied them together with twine and hung them in a warm, dry area for five days.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: hanging to dry
Hang sunflowers for 4-5 days to dry out.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Removing The Seeds

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: removing the seeds

This is the most fun part (I think). There is something oddly satisfying about de-seeding a sunflower bloom. You can wear gloves or not, depending on your preference. Firmly rub the seed head over a bucket to catch the seeds. You’ll also get petals and other sunflower matter in with the seeds, which is fine; you will remove that later.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: removing the seeds

Drying Seeds For Re-Planting

If you’re planning on re-planting the seeds or making them into suet cakes, simply rinse the seeds in a colander and then pick out all the bits and pieces that aren’t seed. Line a shallow cardboard box or wooden crate with newspaper and paper towels and scatter the seeds in a single layer to dry, leaving space in between each seed.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: rinsing the seeds
Rinse sunflower seeds before laying out to dry.

Allow them to dry for several hours (or overnight). If you’re saving the seeds to re-plant, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant. Label the container with the variety and the date you harvested. The seed will last for years if stored this way.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: drying
Allow the seeds to dry for several hours or overnight before storing.
Harvest Sunflower Seeds: storing the seeds
Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.

How To Make Suet Cakes With Sunflower Seeds

Your local bird population will certainly appreciate your homemade suet cakes, and if you compost this is a great way to use leftover beef fat.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: suet ingredients

Fruit And Sunflower Seed Suet Cake Recipe (Yields About Four Cups):

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef fat or lard
  • 1 cup millet
  • 1 cup chopped cherries, raisins, or crab apples
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of honey (optional)
  • Small plastic containers (sour cream, yogurt, freezer containers)
Harvest Sunflower Seeds: making suet

Directions:

  • Melt the fat in a saucepan until completely liquid. Next, remove from heat and let sit for several minutes.
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients and fill containers evenly with mixture.
  • Refrigerate the containers filled with suet cakes until they start to harden and then store them in the freezer until ready for use.
Harvest Sunflower Seeds: suet containers

Store the homemade suet cakes in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

You can find all of these ingredients in the bulk section of your local health food store, which allows you get exactly the amount you need. You can also buy the items in bulk to have them on hand when you run out.

Making your own suet cakes is really easy to do and a great way to give your local bird population healthy food during the colder months.

Soaking, Drying And Baking Sunflower Seeds For Eating

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: suet ingredients

Finally, something for you to eat! Soak seeds in a mixture of water and ¼ cup salt overnight. If you prefer unsalted seeds, omit the salt in this process and simply soak the seeds in water. If you don’t have the time to soak the seeds overnight, bring water, salt and seeds to a boil on the stove, then turn down to a simmer and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: soaking seeds
Soak seeds overnight before baking.

After you’ve either soaked or boiled the seeds, run them through a strainer (don’t rinse them) and then pick out all of the sunflower bits. Next, dry the seeds on a layer of newspaper and then paper towels for several hours before baking.

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: baking seeds
Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spread the seeds in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds are slightly browned and fragrant. After you take the seeds out of the oven you can eat them plain or sprinkle spices and drizzle olive oil over them. You can also store the seeds in an airtight container for weeks to stay fresh and snak con. Enjoy!

Harvest Sunflower Seeds: baking sunflower seeds

Growing and harvesting sunflower seeds is a fantastic way to help out pollinators in the summer months. It's also a great way to continue feeding birds (and your family) into the winter.

Have you harvested sunflower seeds to re-plant, bake or make suet cakes with? Please share your experiences in the comments below!

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