This week I have had several telephone calls from county residents wondering when they should harvest and how to dry sunflowers they grew this year. In addition, the article on dividing peonies must have triggered questions on dividing irises because I had several telephone calls on that subject, too. The following should answer these questions.
Generally, sunflowers are ready to harvest about 120 days after planting. If you are not sure when this is, another indication of sunflower maturity is when the back of the sunflower head becomes hard and changes from green to yellow to brown; also, the bracts (the smaller leaves surrounding the flower head) turn brown in color.
Using a sharp knife or pruners, cut the entire head from the stalk. Place the mature head in a dry, well-ventilated spot. Do not stack the heads on top of each other. Air movement should circulate around them to aid in drying.
To remove seeds from the dried sunflower head, use a sharp knife to scrape and/or cut out or shake the seeds onto clean newspaper. Store in an airtight container until you are ready to use them as bird food or as a snack for the family.
To prepare freshly harvested mature sunflower seeds at home, cover the unshelled seeds with salted water (2 quarts of water to 1/4 to 1/2 cup salt). Bring seeds and water to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours. Drain and allow to dry on a paper towel.
Put sunflower seeds in a shallow pan in a 300° oven for approximately 35 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally. Remove from oven and add 1 teaspoon of melted butter or margarine to 1 cup of baked sunflower seeds. Be sure to coat all of the seeds well.
Lastly, enjoy your homegrown and prepared nutritious snack.