MANHATTAN, Kan. – From farmers to little league players, sunflower seeds are a favorite summertime snack of many.

“Sunflowers are usually ready to be harvested beginning in mid-September and into October,” said Kansas State University horticulture expert Ward Upham.

“Seed heads can begin to ripen on the plant but need to be protected from birds,” Upham said, adding that knowing when and how to harvest sunflowers is important when planning to roast and eat the seeds

Upham recommended covering the sunflower heads with a paper sack or cheesecloth once the petals start turning brown to help keep the birds out and prevent loss of ripened seeds.

A few tips for when to harvest include:

  • Shriveled florets in the brown center of the flower disk
  • Heads turned down
  • Back side of the head is a lemon-yellow color

“The ultimate check, of course, is to pull a few seeds to see if they have turned black with white stripes, the typical color,” Upham said.

If not covering the heads, the proper harvest point would be when a few seeds have turned black and white. “The flavor will not be as good as when seeds are allowed to ripen on the plants, but fewer seeds will be lost,” Upham said.

Once the sunflowers are ready to harvest, some people cut just the head off and place it in a paper sack, while others opt to leave about a foot of stem and hang them upside down to dry/ “Seeds can be easily removed from a dry head by rubbing it gently,” Upham said.

After harvesting the seeds, it’s time to roast them. Upham’s tips include:

  • Cover unshelled seeds with 2 quarts water to ¼ to 2 cups salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or soak in salt solution overnight.
  • Drain seeds from salted water and dry on absorbent paper.
  • Heat oven to 300 degrees F and place sunflower seeds in a shallow pan, let cook in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to stir occasionally.
  • Take seeds out of the oven and add 1 teaspoon of melted butter, margarine or cooking oil per one cup of seeds.
  • Stir to coat all the seeds, place on absorbent towel and salt to taste.

Upham and his colleagues in K-State’s Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources produce a weekly Horticulture Newsletter with tips for maintaining home landscapes. The newsletter is available to view online or can be delivered by email each week.

Interested persons can also send their garden- and yard-related questions to Upham at wupham@ksu.edu, or contact your local K-State Research and Extension office.

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