The annual sunflower is a genuine American native: By parching and pounding the sunflower seed, American Indians made cornmeal, extracted a valuable, edible oil—equal to corn oil—and after the oil had been extracted, the remaining seed cake was valuable food for their animals. Although, this flower is now widely used for decoration to brighten up dim corners of your home or garden, saving seeds is still a useful and practical method that should be utilized year after year. Read on to learn how to easily grow these yellow giants and harvest their seeds for future planting or food.
The sunflower is super-easy to grow. It will thrive if you provide it with no more than a small amount of its necessities: open, well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Each plant forms a very extensive and rather rapid growth both above and below ground, so allow ample space. Space the rows about two feet apart and sow the seed about two feet apart in the row. Don't plant the seeds until any danger of frost has passed and the soil has thoroughly warmed up.
Because sunflowers grow enormously during a short period, they demand an ample amount of readily available plant food. The best way to supply this demand is to incorporate a six-inch layer of organic humus or organic fertilizer into the soil when planting. Provide some support for the stalks to prevent them from being toppled by high winds.
Wild birds understand the real health value of sunflower seeds, so take note of when the birds begin to pick out the seed around the rim of the head. Naturally, the outer seeds mature earlier than those nearer the center of the head. Just as soon as about ⅔ of the seeds are well filled, the head may be gathered. If you wait for the center seeds to fill out, you may lose the outer ones.
Cut off the flowerheads with a foot or two of the stalks attached and hang them in an airy, dry place to cure before attempting to separate the seeds from the husks.
Once the rough dried stalks that you cut and collected become brittle, the fat seeds separate easily as you run your thumb lightly over the surface of the head. You can even peel a few of the seeds, nibble on them, and find them quite delicious. You can save these seeds as winter food for the wild birds, or as starter seeds for your future garden.