Friday, May 31, 2013

Drying Sunflower Heads for Seeds

It is now time for me to try my hand at drying the sunflower heads for harvesting the seeds! My sunflower garden is nearly 3 months old; I started it from seeds on March 2, 2013. I was waiting for the right moment to cut that first sunflower head. I suppose I could have ceremoniously waited until June 2nd, but I couldn't wait! So, I am 2 days short of the 3 months.

Cutting the Sunflower Heads

You can tell when it is time to cut the sunflower heads as all of the flower petals will have fallen off. The back of the blossom head will be yellowing. And, something important to note. You can see that the back of the sunflower head has indented or pushed toward the front.

The Back of the Sunflower Head is Yellow and Indented
The Back of the Sunflower Head is Yellow and Indented
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
I got out a pair of my heavy duty inside scissors and headed out to my garden. Since one of my tallest Autumn Beauty sunflowers had been bent over for more than a week, I decided to make that the first head I cut. That was the first Autumn Beauty sunflower plant to exceed 6 ft. in height. At the time of the cutting, it was well over 7 ft. in height if you stretched it out.

Largest Sunflower Head in My Garden : Autumn Beauty
Largest Sunflower Head in My Garden : Autumn Beauty
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
It was easy to cut the thick stem with my scissors; I cut down to leave 9 inches of stem on the head. Before I cut any other sunflower heads, I came inside and put the cut sunflower head on my LS-30 postal scale.

The First Head Cut : Largest Sunflower Head : Autumn Beauty
The First Head Cut : Largest Sunflower Head : Autumn Beauty
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
I'm not sure what the average sunflower head is supposed to weigh, but this one came in at 8.2 ounces.  For some reason, I thought if felt heavier than that. The next largest sunflower head weighed in at 5.1 ounces. Most of the heads that I cut were comparable in size, weighing 4.5 to 5.1 ounces each.

A Bunch of Cut Sunflower Heads for Seed Harvesting
A Bunch of Cut Sunflower Heads for Seed Harvesting
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
As you can see in the photo above, all the sunflower petals have fallen off the heads. The back of the heads were yellowing and rather indented. The most stem that I left on the cut heads was 9 inches. The rest of the heads, I left from 3 to 6 inches of stem.

Pests Who Like to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Some gardeners may recommend that you leave the sunflower heads on the plants to dry; however, you run the risk of the birds or squirrels doing the seed harvesting for you! Everyday, In my back yard, I watch dozens of squirrels flying through the trees which rise up in the drainage area at the edge of my property. Sometimes, it is like a party in my yard as they zip back and forth from my yard to the neighbor's yard.

Those same squirrels went crazy last year when the Drake Elm went to seed in my front yard. I saw 6 squirrels at one time up in that tree, dropping those seed pods in my grass. A few months later, I had hundreds of little Drake Elm seedlings in my grass.

When I had a bird feeder in my back yard, I used to fill it with a mix that had a lot of sunflower seeds. Yep! The squirrels found the bird feeder and made short order of the sunflower seeds. So, I know those squirrels will harvest those sunflower seeds once they get wind of them!

It's not only the squirrels, but we have a plethora of birds thanks to the neighbor who puts out two large feeders. One evening, I was in my Florida Room talking on the phone with my neighbor. As I looked into the sunflower garden, I saw a male cardinal land on the stem of an Autumn Beauty sunflower plant! He flew off to the other neighbor's yard and landed on his fence. Next, into the garden flew the female cardinal. She landed on the decorative metal edging. Yes, I could well imagine that those cardinals would like to harvest some of those sunflower seeds.

Drying the Sunflower Heads 

I have read that you should dry the sunflower heads in perhaps a dark shed. Or, to keep out the pests from your garden, whilst drying your heads, you could put a paper bag on them. I have a lot of heads to dry, so using paper bags wouldn't be practical. And, I don't have a shed yet. I thought about putting the heads in my garage; but decided against it as I use my garage every day.

Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
The next logical place seemed to be my Florida Room. It is a dry and warm room that sometimes feels like a greenhouse or hot house. I have a large wicker storage chest that I purchased from Pier One Imports many years ago. Since it was not being used for anything, I am now using it for drying the sunflower heads.

Before I brought the various cut sunflower heads inside, I set them on the concrete patio out back to be sure I gave any bugs the chance to scurry away.

Inside the wicker chest, I placed one of the plastic liners from Lowe's on the bottom. Then, I put the 19 sunflower heads on top of the liner as demonstrated in the photo above.

Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Drying 19 Sunflower Heads for Seeds in a Large Wicker Chest
Photo taken by JaguarJulie Ann Brady on May 31, 2013
Once I had all the cut sunflower heads arranged inside the wicker chest, I shut the top of it. I didn't shut it completely, but placed 2 sets of 2 moose fabric aromatherapy coasters under the lid to let just a little bit of air inside the wicker chest.

Like that storage chest? I found the Wicker Lane Wicker Storage Deck Box at Amazon looks pretty similar to mine! I've had mine for years, and it still looks pretty much like new! Those types of chests can be used for storage or you can use them for a cocktail table in the living room. Maybe add a glass top to it? I've found that my wicker chest worked in the bedroom, living room, patio or Florida Room.

Thanks for stopping by today to be a part of my sunflower garden journey! It's been fun, you know? Check back in to see how the drying process goes!

Update: I have just written my next blog post in this series entitled, Harvesting Sunflower Seeds from the Heads. Can you guess how many sunflower seeds might be in one average sunflower head?


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2 comments:

Tony Payne said...

Those sunflower photos are wonderful Julie, the colors are so bright and vivid.

JaguarJulie Brady said...

Thanks Tony ... I have been enjoying the heck out of them. Every day ... in the morning and evening ... I am snapping more photos. Amazing that you can get these brilliant colors! Good to see you.