When we first moved to Tennessee in March one of our top priorities was to get a little garden going. The quickest and easiest way at that time was to set up a few square-foot garden plots around the house. We didn't have any clue where to start with a "real" garden of the scale that we ultimately envisioned. Thus, our six square-foot gardens plots worked out well and produced a significant amount of our veggies and herbs for the past 4-5 months. Sweetbreads and her Mom did a great job companion planting and getting it all up and running.
However, I was itching to tear up the lawn and plant a bigger garden. One with rows and that was capable of providing all of our vegetable needs for an extended period of time. It will take a few years to reach that goal, but I think we made a good start.
Sunflower seeds. Chomping away at a handful brings me back to the days of softball in elementary school. I couldn't shell them very well with my teeth, so I'd just pop a bunch in my mouth and chew the whole seed up, shell and all. It was, admittedly, a tad messy and a little rough looking to spit the shell bits out, but that's the point, right? At least when you've got a bat in your hands!
I was looking forward to harvesting our own seeds this year and so was pleased to see our sunflowers towering all through the summer. Then, we peeked out at the garden one morning to find our sunflowers looking like this:
I had a moment of panic. "They're dead!" I mean, they looked pretty dead. Petals shriveled and brown, stem sadly droopy... No sunflower seeds for us :(. Or so I thought. It turns out, the seeds weren't even ready yet! After the heads have started to droop and the petals have dried up, you wait until the back of the flower head has started to turn dry and brown. When the seeds have taken on their characteristic dark brown/black stripe and are nice and plump, it's time to harvest. I started monitoring them that day and just this past week, one of the flowers was ready to go. Here's how we went about collecting, roasting, and storing the seeds:
With my seeds all plump and striped, I hacked off the flower, including about a foot of the stem and brought it inside to dry out for a day (humidity, bad).
Then, holding the flower head over a bowl, I bent and twisted it a bit and ran my hands over the seeds to help loosen them until they had all popped out.
After all of the seeds were removed, I rinsed them in a colander to remove some little bits of debris and dirt. Then I soaked them overnight in a brine of 1/2 gallon of water and 1/4 cup of salt (for lightly salted seeds go with 1/4 cup of salt, if you like 'em with the salinity of store-bought seeds, go with 1/2 cup)The next morning I spread them out on a baking pan and roasted them in the oven at 350 F for 20 minutes (you want to make sure they're dry), stirring occasionally.
After they cooled, I stored them in a glass jar in the pantry. From one head we harvested over 2 cups of seeds. We went with Mammoth Sunflowers from High Mowing Organic Seeds and all of the seeds we planted sprouted and grew to full size.