Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

Garden Update: A too-early sunflower harvest

Was this really only a few weeks ago? This summer is going by too fast. (Photo: Michael Howell)

That giant sunflower I posted about a couple of weeks ago has lost all its flower petals and is starting to look a little ratty, so I decided to try harvesting some seeds this morning.

That giant stalk had seven flowers on it. To my inexperienced eye, the top five seemed like they might be ready for harvest, so I snipped them off and left the bottom two in place.

Whoops.

After scraping off the flower fuzz covering the seeds, I discovered that sadly I have harvested them too early. While there are some lovely plump black seeds there, there are also a lot of paler seeds that frankly could have used some more time. Oh well.

I’m pretty sure I harvested these too early, but I’m going to hang them for a while so I can see what happens when they dry out. (Photo: Shala Howell)

File that away as a lesson for next year. It’s not enough to simply wait for the petals to wilt and fall off. I also need to wait for the leaves and stalk around the flower heads to turn yellow.

Fortunately I have two heads still on the plant to practice patience with.

In the meantime, what can I do with my too-early sunflower harvest?

My basic gardening strategy this year is to try growing a lot of different things, make a ton of mistakes while doing it, and do a better job next year. When it comes to sunflowers, that means taking my too-early harvest and try drying it anyway to see what happens.

So, I’ve placed my crop of sunflowers in a paper bag, and have hung them upside down to dry out for a few weeks. Sometime in early August, I’ll take them out of the bag and pry the seeds off the flower heads to see what I’ve got. Hopefully there will be enough seeds in good condition to store some to plant next year. The rest I’ll feed to the birds (and squirrels) this winter. That is, if they will eat them.

Why not roast them for us to eat?

The Thirteen-Year-Old is lobbying hard for me to learn how to roast at least some of them. I’m resisting though, because this sunflower grew out of a random mix of “Save the bees” flower seeds. The seed packet just says “Sunflower”, so I don’t actually know if the sunflower I grew is one of the edible kinds. This article seems to imply that not all sunflowers produce edible seeds, and I’m a little hesitant to experiment on my family like that.

Maybe it would be fine. But since I’ve never grown sunflowers before and know almost nothing about them, it seems safest to just give the fruits of my sunflower garden, such as they are, to the birds and squirrels. Next year I’ll be more deliberate about planting an edible variety and wait to harvest the seeds until later in the summer.

How about you?

How does your garden grow?

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