The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

When to harvest sunflowers

Harvest sunflowers when the backs turn yellow and the disc flowers rub off easily

Drooping sunflower heads are ready to harvestLast year, oilseed sunflowers were an experimental crop for us, so of course the deer ate them and we didn't have any seeds to harvest.  Deer aren't so interested in the sunflowers this year, preferring to nibble our experimental beans, so I've been thrilled to watch these low-work vegetables do their thing.  The plants quickly shot up above my head, opened huge yellow flowers, and then dropped the petals as the seeds swelled up and the heads drooped under their own weight.

Some people advocate leaving sunflowers to dry in the field, but I know for a fact that our local wildlife would consider that a "free lunch" sign.  So as soon as the backs of the flower heads began to yellow and the tiny yellow disc flowers in the center of the "flower" easily rubbed off the black seeds, I snipped the tops off the sunflower stalks and hung them to dry under the porch eaves.

Hang sunflower heads to dryThe harvest came not a moment too soon.  As I worked, a brilliant yellow goldfinch flew to one of the headless stalks and chittered at me.  "Hey, no fair!  I was counting on that to feed my family!"  A couple of hours later, he'd gathered his wife and brothers to peck seeds out of the drying heads, so I had to cover the whole mass with row cover fabric.  I hope he isn't bright enough to slip up underneath the fabric, but even so I'm considering rubbing the seeds out of the heads ASAP and putting them in a sealed container.

If I get my act together and buy or make an oil press, I'll let you all know how much oil you get out of two beds of sunflowers.  Or maybe I'll just save them and feed the high protein sunflower seeds to the chickens.

Our homemade chicken waterer keeps our hens happy and healthy.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Thanks for putting this information online. I was just looking at my sunflowers today and trying to decide if they were ready for harvesting. Based on the flowers rubbing off easily, mine are ready.
Comment by rdg Sat Sep 24 13:03:21 2011
As long as you see good size seeds underneath that have changed color, you should be good to harvest.
Comment by anna Sat Sep 24 18:35:02 2011

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