Thursday, October 13, 2011

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds.

 I picked all but a couple sunflower heads today after cleaning out the storage shed. I've wanted to grow sunflower for quite some time now but frustration reined every time I looked in a catalogue. The descriptions told what color the flowers were and just how beautiful they are but zip -- zilch about the seeds.

And though sunflowers, what ever color they are, are one of my favorite flowers, I was growing them not just to look at but for their seeds. 

Those of you who feed the birds know that black oil sunflower seeds are what you see in all the birds feed mixes. I buy fifty pound bags of black sunflower seeds to mix with my other livestock feed. One mixture I feed to my chickens and another to my goats. Cattle also benefit from eating black sunflower seeds but I haven't put the yaks on them yet. Maybe this winter when they need more nutrition and calories to stay warm. As for horses, I'm not sure if sunflower seeds are recommend for them or not.

As part of my new effort to grow a little feed for my livestock so I'd know how if I had to in the future, I decided sunflower seeds would be a good place to start.

Organic seeds of course since my garden has nothing but that. And now that I've watched a film on the Colony Collapse Disorder in bees, I definitely want nothing else but. They think they have found the reason and it is a new type of pesticide that was introduced to crops. It is pretty scary stuff but I'll talk on that later.

My catalogue search go me nowhere and then I became busy with other projects. Looking back on it, I guess I should have called some catalogue companies but calling is something I don't do well. Not that I don't have phone manners but for some reason I prefer face to face and have a hard time making myself pick up the phone. I'm guessing it has something to do with my Autism for I've had the problem since I was old enough to talk on the phone.

 Anyway, in frustration, I just grabbed a couple packets of Martha Stewart's organic sunflower seeds off the rack at the hardware store and popped them in the ground with a Doris Day kay...,, what ever will be will be, attitude.

Sure enough, what I'm harvesting is people sunflower seeds. How do I know, well, the seeds are white with gray streaks, not black. 

What do I care since both the gray striped and the black striped can be fed to birds and livestock? Something I know for a fact because the birds have been helping themselves to sunflower seeds still on the plants in the garden and of course the Internet said so. 

 So why are commercial black seeds in bird seed mixes and not the white with gray striped even though the white with gray striped seeds are larger? Because black sunflower seeds have more nutrition and are higher in calories than the gray ones. The black are also meatier having a larger seed to shell ratio and the shell is thinner making it easier for the birds to crack.

I'd guess the size difference is why people get the gray ones and animals and birds the black ones. Maybe the gray ones taste better too, not having as much oil in them. I don't really know, I guess I should crack some of those black ones I have for the livestock and find out. 
I do know that this head is not ready to pick even if my fingers were strong enough to dislodge the seeds from the head. See how white the seeds are? They are plump which is what you want but the gray stripes haven't appeared yet. It is when the stripes appear that the birds appear eating the seeds on the outside of the heads where they ripen first and work their way toward the center.
Plump and striped is the two key things you look for but even at this stage it takes some strong fingers to work the seeds out. I'll clean out the vegetation and then spread out the seeds and let them dry some more. When they are fully dry, I'm going to salt some like you do pumpkin seeds and the rest I'll mix with the rest of the sweet corn I'm shelling. The last batch went to the chickens.

As for what I'm going to do next year, I'm not sure. I definitely want to go organic and I guess I'll have to do that thing I don't like to do and make a few phone calls to the organic catalogues companies that I use each year and ask them which of their sunflowers produce black seeds. 

And I'll tell you all about the film on bees which tells the tale about the search for the missing bees and the cause in another post. For now it is chore time and that means supper time for us too.


  1. This was helpful as I too grew people sunflowers and this also was my first attempt. I really wasn't sure about harvesting or drying them. Your pictures match what I have outside. Thanks

  2. Looks great! this is nice and this article is very helpful
    thanks for sharing