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!!
Close up of Peredovik sunflower heads-after the flower petals fall exposing the seeds
Peredovik Black Oil Sunflower in bloom
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.
I just came back from the bird store where I got some black oil sunflower seeds for my wild birds when I thought why not grow my own for next year? My favorite sunflower up to now has been the Titan sunflower which is a striped seed and is not a black oil seed. Black oil seeds compared to striped sunflower seeds have a higher oil content and are meatier for birds. They are also easier for small birds to crack open. I already cut off the sunflower heads from sunflowers for birds so why not give them what is really good for them. One variety of black oil sunflower seed that I found is Peredovik Black Oil Sunflower Seed from Russia. In 2016 you can get it at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. You can also just plant the black oil seed you get in your birdseed. I read that the sunflowers grow from 3-6 feet tall. So this year I’m going to add them in with my other sunflowers that I grow for a treat for the wild birds.
Hmm, now I wonder if I can grow that real expensive finch seed, Nyger? I’ll have to look into that! It is super expensive but I don’t know if it will grow here. I’ll get back to you on that one..
2014 update: Try to grow some from your birdseed mix but if yours don’t grow from your birdseed, go to the site above to buy some that will germinate. This is the most current seed company to buy from.