Harvesting Sunflowers

Dateline: 3 September 2015

I've grown sunflowers in years past but I've never taken the time to harvest the seed heads before the mice and birds get to them. This year, however, I want the seeds. 

So I looked up online when the right time to harvest sunflowers is. I now understand that it is when the flower heads bow down, the petals die, and the back of the flower heads begin to yellow. Most of my sunflowers are at that point.

I think that when you can easily rub off the vegetation over the seeds, as shown above, that must also be a sign of maturity.

With that in mind, I've cut off most of the big flower heads, rubbed off the vegetative covering (does someone know the technical term for the covering?), and am going to hang the seed heads under the porch roof of my workshop to further dry down.

I opened a seed to check it out, and I'm pleased with what I found inside...

Now, my question is... Who can give me some advice on how to put the seeds to good human-food use? Or, more specifically, has anyone reading this raised sunflowers to eat, and, if so, is there an easy way to process them to get the seeds out of the shells? I could look this up online too, but I have a feeling that readers of this blog will have some useful insights.


Honeybees on a Sunflower

Early last month, when my sunflowers were in the prime of their life, enjoying their season in the sun, I noticed the sunflower above, with ten honeybees in it.

There was a lot of energy and excitement in the moment I captured that scene  The honeybees, their pollen baskets (corbicula) visibly full and bright, seemed enraptured in their work.

I felt kind of enraptured myself. The reason being, we rarely see honeybees anymore around here. Fact is, that little cluster of honeybees was the first of any honeybees I sighted this year around my garden.

With few-to-no honeybees, it looks to me like the bumblebee population has increased, and, thankfully, they seem to be doing a very good job at pollinating.

Have you noticed a decrease in honeybees in your garden this year?


imawakenow said...


I have used the sunflower seeds to make cooking oil. I use a Piteba oil expeller and get great fresh oil. You can read about the press at www.piteba.com. No need to shell the seeds.

The leftover seed cake is great for compost. I've heard of people feeding the seed cake to livestock as well. I tried giving it to our chickens but they were not interested. I am going to experiment using it as biomass in a pellet stove.

Thanks for all that you do.


Anonymous said...

Hey Herrick, have you ever considered keeping honeybees?

Gail said...

Honey bees are a good sign. We have so few.

When drying the heads, I hope your porch is enclosed. The birds and other critters might have a feast. One year I thought I had them outsmarted by hanging them on the barn rafters in toe sacks. The mice found them that year.

Looks like a wonderful crop.

Steven Martin said...

Know you don't have the time to tend to honey bee colonies. Perhaps someone in your local beekeepers Assoc could bring out a hive for you. You'll likely see a gain in garden productivity having a bee hive on site. It will also captivate your grandson.
Steve M
Church View Farm
Romney, WV

Herrick Kimball said...

I'm intrigued. Have seen that in the Lehman's catalog and wondered about it. Thanks for the suggestion.

I had honeybee hives years ago. Got a lot of honey from them, before the bees all died. I wrote an couple of essays back in 2005 about having bees...

Earl The Bee Man & My First Hive

Can You Feel The Energy?"

I'm hanging them where I walk by many times every day. If I see an indication of critters getting at them, I'll come up with a different plan. They have their ways, eh?

Thanks for the suggestion. I did notice a difference in my garden for the two growing seasons when I had hives only a few feet away. I have been wanting to get more ever since.

Pam Baker said...

Chiming in with my two cents.....
I have heard that pantyhose over the flowerheads works, but haven't done it myself.
I too have an expeller for oil from Lehman's, but haven't planted sunflowers. Plan is for next year.
Busy, busy, busy!!!

Anonymous said...

send the seeds through your grain mill steel burs. Coarse enough to crack the shells and then winnow them is what I have heard.

RonC said...


I had one of my two beehives survive last Winter. I ordered a 3# package of bees and 2 queens this Spring and through a couple of happy accidents, I now have 5 colonies that I will try to take through the Winter. I converted over to Warre hives this year and while I think they will help me keep my bees alive during the Winter, I am not convinced the Warre management style is the answer for the northern tier states in the summer.


Here is an activity you could do with Futureman in the May to early June time frame when he is old enough to go on a two mile hike with you:


An excellent little book called ,"The Bee Hunter" by George Harold Edgell has a better bee box design and a better technique. It is in the public domain, but I picked up a reprint on Amazon.

I was going to try "Beelining" in town but not with the intention of cutting down bee trees for the honey, but rather to find good locations to set up swarm traps to increase my hive count.

I would second Steven Martin's suggestion of looking for a beekeeper to move some colonies onto your land. Maybe take it a bit further and get a migratory beekeeper to move in a bunch of hives each Spring. That way, you could have bees around the area, and the traditional rent payment is made in honey so you could have your honey without having to take time out of your busy schedule to take up beekeeping.

I've taken to promoting the growth of Dandelions and Alsike Clover in my lawn in town and at the farmsite. Everyone else is trying to destroy theirs but I am trying to increase mine ;oP


Kara Wyandt said...

We had a lot of honey bees this year. I was so excited! We haven't had very many the past few years.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pam—
Your 2-cents are always appreciated.

I will give that a try.

Thanks for the information and links. The Northern Woodlands article is fascinating (and the comments are excellent too). I recently bought a copy of that magazine and it is a surprisingly good publication. There are not many magazines that interest me anymore but Northern Woodlands is one exception. Interesting articles and very well written. It has been around for years and I just "discovered" it.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And lots of honeybees always grace your garden.

That's an old Irish blessing (to which I have added the extra last line). :-)

Anonymous said...

We always have honey bees here near Jackson Michigan. We have a bee keeper who rents out hives to farmers in the area , we also have had swarms in our yard, so I do not know if we have wild bees also that come from our woods . My daughter found bee hive of wax just hanging from the tree way up high in the woods. My neighbor came and got the last swarm we had put it in the bucket of his tractor and took it home , he has honey galore now for the past few years .I think you may be in a colder area than us..we are in a farming area 10 miles south of the city, mostly corn and soybean and last few years also hay fields.The bee keeper experienced the die out several years ago but now says they are fine..maybe when the die out happened not many tried again causing the population to stay low?? They do not seem as populous as the English honeybees of my childhood tho. Karen

John D. Wheeler said...

Regarding the "vegetative covering", what is on top of each seed is an individual blossom. Being a member of the Composite family, the "flower" is actually an inflorescence.

For hulling sunflower seeds, I've heard oat roller work really well, but I don't have one, so I haven't tried it. My sunflowers all go to my chickens as part of their scratch mix. They don't love them as much as the corn, but the sunflowers seeds all disappear pretty quickly.

I've also heard sunflower seeds make good sprouts; I wonder if the hulls would come off easily at some point in that process?

Anonymous said...

We always did our sunflower seeds like pumpkin seeds. Boil them for a short time in salt water then bake them in the oven. Makes them just like the baseball game treat!

Hamza Razaq said...

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