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Sunflower seeds are a healthy and tasty treat you can grow yourself.

Edible Sunflower Seeds – Another Opportunity!

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1506257728568{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]A snack at the ball park on a sunny day, as a topping on a fresh salad, or packed away in your lunchbox for an afternoon snack, sunflower seeds are versatile and tasty.  You can find them at any grocery store, but there is something special about being able to grow and roast your own sunflower seeds! The sunflowers grown for edible seed are different from your traditional fresh cut flower varieties.  These varieties of sunflowers are picked for their exceptional ability to produce many high-quality seeds. They are still visually appealing and a great aesthetic addition to your garden, but they serve a dual purpose since you will be able to harvest, roast, and enjoy the seeds at maturity.  These seeds can also be used for bird food and are good to attract pollinators in your garden.

Cultivars best for edible seeds, called confection types, come from two types of cultivars with striped hulls. First are the tall cultivars that are everyone’s stereotypical image of sunflowers. These are plants considerably taller than a person with dinner-plate sized flower heads. Second are shorter varieties with larger plumper seeds bred specifically for snack use. Shorter cultivars have large plump seeds on easier-to-reach flowers. “Royal Hybrid” is 7 feet tall and has 8-inch-wide flowers with high seed productivity. “Snack Seed” has large heads of plump seeds. “Super Snack Mix” has a solitary 10-inch wide flower on a 5-foot-tall plant with seeds that are easy to crack open. You need to protect developing sunflower seed heads from predation by birds and small wildlife such as rodents by encasing the seed heads in cheesecloth (mesh, pantyhose, or anything else with aeration). You can also use paper bags but be sure to leave space for air to get in or poke holes in the bags.

It is best to make several sowings 3 weeks apart to have a succession of bloom. Keep soil moist and well-weeded. No extra amendment is needed unless soil is poor and could benefit from a pelleted, slow release balanced fertilizer. It is usually necessary to thin the sunflowers but it depends on the variety you use. In general, there are not many serious pests to worry about when growing sunflowers for seed, but there are a few you should keep an eye out for because if they do get into your flowers, they can do substantial damage. European corn borer and sunflower moth can be problematic, but it depends on your location. bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is an effective and organic control for European corn borer and there are many chemical controls available, but it is important to remember to take precautionary steps when applying chemical pesticides to sunflowers.  This is because sunflowers attract many bees and other pollinators when in bloom.

You will know they are ripe when the flower heads turn pale yellow and the edges get brown.  The seeds that were white will darken and the soft ends of the buds on each seed will dry up and fall off.  You can let sunflower heads dry in the garden, but as mentioned earlier you will need to protect them from birds! After enclosing the flower heads, allow three to four weeks’ drying time before picking them. If rain threatens, pick them earlier. You can also pick them once the central disc florets have dried up and seeds are forming. Cover the flower heads and cut the heads off with about 1 foot of stalk remaining below the flower head. Hang the sunflowers upside down in a warm, dry place until seeds are ripe and dry. The next steps you take will differ depending on if you plan to roast the seeds and enjoy them yourself, or if you plan to save them for the birds for later. If you plan to use them for bird seed then you have a few options.

Birds’ bills are ideally suited for extracting their own seeds. The easiest way to feed them your homegrown sunflower seeds is to set out one of the dried sunflower heads on a tray or platform feeder and let them enjoy it. You can also use the end of the stalk to poke through a fence or trellis to hang the sunflower heads for the birds to feed on. The other option is to brush the seeds off the dried flower head and then save them in a mesh bag to feed later.

If you plant to eat them yourself then you can take the dried flower heads and push dry seeds out with a wire brush or you can remove them by hand by brushing them off the head (gloves may be a good idea). Remove any stems, leaves, or other material that may have fallen into the seeds. If you want salted seeds, soak the seeds in water with ¼-1/8 cup of salt overnight or boil them in salt water for 15-20 minutes.  Then lay the seeds out to dry on paper towels and place them on a baking sheet in the oven at 400°F for 10-15 minutes. If you would rather have them unsalted then just place them on the sheet and roast them for about 5 minutes. There is no good method to quickly shell the seeds without expensive machinery, but it can be done as you eat them or it can become your new favorite thing to do while watching TV!

The best way to store sunflower seeds is in an airtight container or bag in the pantry or another cool dark place with a constant temperature. Refrigeration prolongs the shelf life, but store them in a glass or ceramic container as they easily absorb chemicals from plastic which can be harmful.

There are many ways to enjoy sunflower seeds. This article has 5 unique recipes to get you started enjoying sunflower seeds for every meal! Happy growing and snacking!

Lydia Fitzgerald: Student, writer, flower & vegetable farmer!About:
 I grew up on a farm in Nelson County, Va and helped raise wholesale pumpkins, apples, corn, and soybeans. I did work in food safety and certifications and started a retail sector with pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers, Indian corn, and sweet corn for a pick-your-own operation. I have been involved in home vegetable gardening and I love to learn about different management and marketing strategies for small and large scale production systems. I am currently a student at Virginia Tech studying Crop and Soil Science planning to attend graduate school in the fall.



Recipe for roasting seeds:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][mk_custom_sidebar sidebar=”sidebar-1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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