Autumn Harvest: Saving Sunflower Seeds

October 29th, 2009 - filed under: The Farm » Flora


Look at the size of that sucker!

My backyard just isn’t complete without sunflowers. They cheer up any space they inhabit! If you’re feeling generous (or just lazy), you can leave your sunflowers alone and they’ll act as natural built-in bird feeders for your garden.

But if you’re inclined to save your seeds, either for next years planting or as the delicious edibles that they are, here’s the ins and outs of the task.


Cut the head when it begins to die back. It’s ready when the backside has gone from green to yellow (below).


At first the head will be covered with small yellow buds. Leave it alone it in a dry airy place for a few weeks. When it’s all dried out, you’ll be able to easily brush off the browned buds to reveal the seeds (below).


Pry out the seeds! There’s a ton, so this may take a while . . .


From here you can either store the seeds in a cool dry place to plant next spring, or you can eat them. NOM. You can shed the husks and use the insides in raw form. Or you can toast them, by soaking the seeds (husk and all) overnight in a 1:4 salt water solution, and then oven roasting them at 200º for 3-4 hours.


I love my sunflowers! This year was my biggest yield yet, and I’ll definitely save a few seeds to plant again next season. But most of them are for eatin’. They’re just too wonderful (and nutrient-packed) not to !

  • Miss Sofia

    Beautiful sunflower. It’s so damn huge! *_*

  • Julie

    Any tips on growing them?

  • Julie

    I always find myself wanting to tell you things and I have this moment where I go, where do I put it? Facebook? Text? BA? ANYWAY, just read this thing that this weekend they are having an Isla Vista Fruit Foraging Tour where students can go on a bike riding tour of IV to identify all edible plants whose owners (not the renters) have made them publicly available for anyone who is interested in harvesting. So cool. (And so 5 years too late)

  • Sayward

    @ Miss Sofia – I know! It’s crazy, right?

    @ Julie – Sunflowers are actually pretty darn easy as long as you can get them past their tender first few weeks. Plant them straight into the ground as opposed to starting them inside, because they don’t do as well with transplanting. They like a nice dark nutrient-rich soil. Medium watering (err an the side of more). They’re fragile at first, so don’t let an animal or wee person knock them over or bend their long skinny stems – they won’t recover from that (I speak from a LOT of experience, grrrr dogs). But overall they’re really easy and you can almost forget about them once they’re going. And they’re soooo awesome amongst the veggies!!!

    That’s really cool that IV is doing that. It’s funny, ’cause I’m spread all over the internets so I know what you mean! I think the Friday Feedback Forum is a great place for sharing news and tips and just interesting stuff – a lot of people read those comments and go back and check up and stuff. That would be my suggestion!

    Talk soon lady!

  • Hils

    Do you suppose it would be at all possible to plant these indoors? And do you have any tips or tricks on how to shell the seeds? It seems like it’d be such a daunting task to do so many. Thanks!

  • Selah

    I’m a new reader*waves* and was wondering what type of sunflower these are?

  • Sayward

    @ Hils – I think with enough light and the right atmosphere, you could grow anything indoors. The only thing I would worry about is the roots. This guy was about 8 feet tall all said and done, and on such a skinny stem (relative to the height – it was actually super thick for a ‘flower stem’!), the root system has to go pretty far down and pretty far out. So you’d need to get it in a very deep and rather wide pot. But other than that, I’d say it’s definitely worth a try! Let me know if you do it, please! =D

    I’ve heard of one trick to shell the seeds but haven’t tried it myself. Basically, you wrap the seeds in a towel and then use a mallet or something to pond them – softly. Not crush them into sunflower seed butter, but definitely enough to crack up the husks. Then you put the seeds into a large lidded jar covered with plenty of water, and shake shake shake. The inner seeds should fall to the bottom while the husks should float to the top. You my have to shake and scoop out the husks a few times.

    Sounds plausible!

    @ Selah – Hello! And welcome to the site!

    The strain of sunflower is called ‘Mammoth Grey Stripe’.I think it may be a local heirloom here in Portland Oregon, but I’m not sure of that.

  • Kelly

    My goodness…that is massive and absolutely beautiful! Sunflowers look so happy (and/or they make me happy) and I will definitely grow them someday!

  • Pingback: Autumn Update: Gearing the Garden Down | Bonzai Aphrodite

  • VITA

    Wow, it totally reminded me when I was a little girl back home in Ukraine. I really miss those times. I am gald I grew up in a village, so it’s so much easier to adjust to natural and green things these days. It brings good memories back and some great ideas too.
    Love your blog.

  • http://n/a Michelle Mindak

    Your sunflowers and seed saving tips are very helpful, thank you. I live in NW Indiana, and have (finally) managed to grow a number of 12′+ Russian Mammoth Sunflowers. Recent extreme winds have taken down my two biggest ones, snapping their stems despite my staking efforts. The backs of the flowers have not yet turned yellow, much less brown, but there are lots of seeds formed and the yellow petals are falling off. Is there a way I can still save the seeds for drying, eating and replanting purposes? Your response will be greatly appreciated. I hate to let these beauties go to waste.
    Thank you so much,

  • Sayward

    @ Michelle Mindak – 12′, WOW those must be stunning. To save the seeds all you need to do is remove them from the flower head (can be kind of a pain in the butt actually) and then let them dry out completely. Sun dried is best, but any warm spot will do. Lay them out in a single layer so they dry evenly.

    Once they’re all dry just store them in a packet or jar till next spring! (or shell them and EAT THEM, haha) It’s really that easy. Luck!

  • http://n/a Michelle

    Thanks so much, Sayward! Yes, they were quite impressive, so glad I took pics while they were still upright. I’ve had all the tallest ones since snap off at the stalks in a wild Hoosier wind, so I’ve got my work cut out. Happy Autumn, All!

  • Lancerwrx40

    thank for your information

  • Lancerwrx40

    thank for your information

  • Lancerwrx40

    My sunflower, I like your eyes too.

  • Froglipsrgood8

    First time growing them, I’ll never go back! I have autumn beauty’s and mammoths

  • deborah crowe

    i worked for a plant nursery for some time.. one commen complaint was how small the second generation sunflower heads were..some to most, just wild sunflower size (4 to7 inches).. my boss (science genius) said, most of the time, second generation mammoth grows back to its smaller genus ancestor.. (90 percent of the time).. i would like to know how the commercial growers continue the bloodline, i have googled and they do not tell us that secret. If you find out please let me know.. I am a giant sunflower fan.. i grow 25 to 50 every year to photograph. ps. just rub the heads together seed side facing.. they pour right out.. thanks for the article.. your pictures are beautiful.. you can see some of my sunflowers on my banner in etsy “croweapple” is my store.. take care.

  • Stuart Naylor

    We had one giant this year along with many smaller sunflowers. Next summer we’ll have a fortress of sunflower giants around the yard. They are awesome to watch grow, especially after they reach about four feet.

  • c_maciel

    Deborah, You say you grew 25 – 50 sunflowers…that’s
    great! I thought I was doing a lot growing 13-15 different varieties.
    Would you share the name of the ones you grew and maybe use photos?

    I am always looking for more interesting and reliable varieties.
    This year I can say right now that Evening Sun is not worth growing: the flowers are small and an orangy-brown mix. I must add, though one plant had large red-brown flowers which are very nice.

    Best for me so far is ‘lemon chiffon’, ‘Lemon Queen’, ‘Italian White’ & ‘Vanilla Ice’.
    Evening Sun photo enclosed.