I recently did a post on sunflowers with some great pictures. I grow sunflowers for attracting beneficial insects, feeding birds and because they are beautiful. But there is something else you can do with them—you can roast the seeds from the heads after the flowers fade and EAT THEM! The biggest sunflowers like Titan, Kong, Giant Gray Stripe and Mammoth which produce big seeds are best. Cut the heads off when the plants are starting to fade and the sunflowers plant yellows. Then let the heads finish drying till they are brown and dry but move them inside as the birds will start to eat the seeds if they find the heads. The smallest flower heads I leave out around the garden for the birds to get the seeds.
After the big flower heads are dried, rub off the front of the flower head to reveal the tightly packed sunflower seeds. Using your thumb, start to rub from the edges and the seeds will release and continue till you get most of them. I do this outside as it is a bit messy with dried parts everywhere. I just sit at my outside patio table to do this. Clean out the dried flower parts from all your seeds before the next step.
Now you’re ready to salt and roast your seeds. The following recipe is provided by the National Sunflower Association—sunflowernsa.com:
Cover unshelled sunflower seeds with salted water, using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salt per 2 quarts of water. Soak seeds in the salt solution overnight. The next morning, drain off the water and pat the seeds dry to remove excess moisture. (You can also roast the seeds unsalted — simply skip the soaking process.)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the sunflower seeds evenly on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. The seeds often develop a small crack down the center as they roast. Taste after each stirring to see if the seeds are completely roasted. After roasting, remove seeds from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Store the seeds in an airtight container for future snacking. YUM!!
I love sunflowers. Every year I plant many varieties because they are so beautiful in the garden. An added bonus is that many bees both native and honeybees love them too. Being a beekeeper I want to help my bees by planting bee friendly plants. Bees like both nectar and pollen from sunflowers so they are a great flower to plant for honeybees and native bees. Individual sunflowers rarely self-pollinate but depend on the bee to help them. In fact bees are the major pollinators of sunflowers. The bees get covered in pollen when they visit a sunflower and then visit other sunflowers pollinating them. Here are some pictures from the garden of my sunflowers. They are particularly beautiful in the fall.
I love my zinnias in my vegetable garden. They are so beautiful and I love the new streaked varieties. They are a double zinnia and are so interesting to look at and the pollinators like them. I know if I was a bee, I would visit them!
They are also an edible flower-check out this article on eating them and recipes at: arcadiafarms.net
Today I planted my Peredovik Black Oil Sunflower Seed from Russia. They are the black oil sunflower seeds that the birds love to eat and this is the variety that is in your bird seed mix that you buy in the store. They are particularly good because they are high in natural fat giving the birds energy. This makes them the best choice of sunflower for feeding birds although the birds love all varieties of sunflower seeds.
I got mine for 2016 from Southern Seed Exchange and can’t wait for them to come up. Just plant like any other sunflower seed mixed in your garden with other flowers. They have multiple heads on each stalk. They won’t be as tall as some of the giant sunflowers usually reaching 4-5 feet tall but it’s nice to know I’m helping the birds. After they flower, I leave the heads on and it’s fun to watch the birds eat them right off the plant in the fall. I leave them well into winter where the wild birds will continue to get the seeds out of the heads.
What are flowers doing in my vegetable garden? Lots of things! They attract beneficial insects that eat the bad bugs, they attract pollinators for pollinating my vegetables, they can repel insects and nematodes, they can be great companions to some plants by growing them near vegetables and best of all they add beauty to a garden and bring me joy! Tuck them in around vegetables. So the next time someone pooh-pooh growing flowers in a vegetable garden give them the low-down on why they should add them.
Below are some annual flowers that will add much more than just beauty in your garden. So don’t forget to plant flowers this year!
zinnias-attracts butterflies (particularly Monarch butterflies)
calendula-repels aphids and other ‘bad’ insects
marigolds-repels bad insects/nematodes
sunflowers-attracts bees/pollen and nectar
nasturtiums-repels aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles
alyssum-attracts pollinators/pollen and nectar
borage-attracts bees/pollen and nectar. Edible, cucumber flavored flowers. Attractive to over 100 beneficial insects.
golden marguerite-attracts five kinds of beneficials—ladybugs, lacewings, flower flies, tachinid flies and mini-wasps.
Queen Anne’s Lace-attracts beneficial wasps (no not the kind that sting us) that eat the bad bugs
fennel-nectar-attracts beneficial wasps that eat the bad bugs
cosmos-attracts pollinators/pollen and nectar
dill-attracts beneficial insects plus pollen and nectar
bachelor button-attracts pollinators/pollen and nectar
The sunflowers are in full swing right now in the garden. In the entry way are ‘Titan’ sunflowers. I call them the guardian angels of the garden. They can get huge (up to 24 inches) although mine did not this year as they were planted late (like middle of June). Still beautiful.
Inside the entry are some other sunflowers-Hopi sunflowers, and Chianti sunflowers. We also have wild sunflowers that grow here in NM, they just haven’t found my garden yet.
I love the green and white dappled foliage of these Tip Top nasturtiums against the other greens in the garden.
Borage is a companion plant to strawberries and the bees love them too. I’ve never seen the strawberry plant so lush and the bees are crazy for them!
Scarlet Runner beans are a vining pole bean and produce a beautiful orange flower. Here a bumblebee is visiting some flowers.
Scarlet Runner beans compete with the Rattlesnake beans for the arbor.
The zinnias look great mixed in with ornamental corn, tip top nasturtiums and cosmos.
The cosmos next to the silver leafed squash are in full bloom now.
All the flowers have added to create a beautiful entrance and attract beneficial insects as a bonus. I even saw some hummingbirds this year in the garden which I haven’t seen before. If you didn’t plant flowers in your veggie garden this year, you should perhaps consider them for next year. They add so much beauty and I love hearing the bees in the garden doing their thing.