Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sunflower Harvest

Finally I'm getting to do this post.  I have been planning this one for months... literally! 
It started this summer when my dad planted an entire section of his field in sunflowers.  There were hundreds of them, and they were thick and tall and gorgeous to see.  I decided early on that I would learn how to harvest them so that we'd have sunflower seeds for our cardinals all winter.
There were big ones and small ones.  Some had yellow centers; others had brown centers.  Some of the centers bulged out; some centers were flat.  I loved them.

Every few days I'd check on my "crop." 

There were sunflowers to share with my friends when they came to make salsa.  

We had a sunflower bouquet in our kitchen all summer.

Then it began... The harvest... Who knew what a big job it would be!  Who knew how much I'd do wrong first, learn a lesson, and try again.
I learned the signs to watch for.  First the yellow petals would sort of wither.  Then the head would just sort of droop or look down.  

At this point I'd take my handy wire cutters (I think) and cut their heads off right behind the flower.  

The centers are covered with tiny little flowers.  Every seed has a little flower.    

I learned that it's a whole lot less messy to rake those flowers off right there in the field.  Cut off the head, wipe off the center flowers (all of them) with gloved hand, rip off what green parts will come off, then toss the head into the bucket.   I put one to three 5-gallon buckets of sunflower seed heads into my little VW bug trunk about twice or three times a week for most of July and August.

I learned to go early in the mornings while it wasn't so hot and I could see them.  They were 7-10 feet tall, so looking up into the sun was miserable.  I also learned to make peace with the bees.  Every sunflower had a bee or two or three working on it.

Another lesson I learned was to be patient and wait until the head had kind of folded itself in half.  That was a sign that it was even more ready.  (They just aren't as pretty as the nice flat ones.)    

There's kind of a nice rhythm to the job.
Grab the stalk -
Pull it down - 
Cut off the head -
Wipe off the flowers - 
Peel off the green - 
Pat pat to knock off the extra - 
Toss it in the bucket - 
Repeat - 
Repeat - 
Repeat -

I'd have to say that we discovered something very therapeutic and satisfying about raking the seeds off the heads.  It was a little addictive too.   
Anyone who came over would have to give it a try, then do another, and another... We had a lot of good conversation around the sunflower tubs.  

Yes, tubs.  
It started out as pans, but I had cut and harvested a lot of sunflowers... 
A lot...

A lot... 
Ron would come home from work and just shake his head.
But, my, they were beautiful.
Black ones, white ones, purple ones, flat ones, rounded ones...

The next lesson I learned had to do with figuring how to dry them.  I laid them all over our deck and porch rail... all... over... it...

But, the seeds seemed to need to dry. Easy, I put them out in the sun on the deck.  
Yeah... that worked... and the ants found them!
Ugh... So... nothing a little pop in the oven won't fix. 
Hey... they're for feeding the birds anyway.  What bird would mind a little baked ant in their birdseed, right!
Eventually, the pans became tubs.
Tubs of sunflower seeds all... over... my... kitchen...

It was FABULOUS!!!  I had a big spoon that I'd stir them with every time I'd walk by.

Then we went out of town for a few days.
No worries, right... The would just dry more... right?

Hmph!  I went outside after we returned, and heard a thump.
I promise this is the truth. A squirrel was sitting on a branch of our dogwood tree holding a sunflower head and dropped it when I came outside!
Little thief had been crawling right up on the porch and helping himself!  And making a mess while he feasted on my harvest!

Evidence under the dogwood tree showed that the squirrels chose not to wait until winter to enjoy their part of the treats.

Sigh... squirrels... they just won't listen to reason!

Original Oil Painting - 12"x 12"
To purchase the painting, click "Sunflower Harvest."


  1. How interesting! My mama used to grow a few in the front yard when I was a little girl. We would try to harvest the seeds, but didn't know how to do it properly. I love this! The painting is gorgeous.

    Squirrels. When we moved into our first house, the yard was full of pines and pine straw. We spent most of the year raking up pine straw. Well the squirrels would get the green pine cones and pick them apart. I love going barefoot and would cut my feet on those things. The last straw was when one squirrel threw a green pine cone on Donnie's head while he was raking. Cut his scalp! The squirrels were on the run after that!

    1. Ha ha! Well, I didn't say I knew how to harvest them properly. It was pretty much trial, error, and common sense. I hope we have fat happy birds this winter!

  2. That sunflower painting is gorgeous! The detail--! Takes my breath away. Fine lines here and there outlining a few petals, the depth to the head, and the depth beyond said head...WOW. Another big WOW is your dedication to harvesting all those sunflowers and seeds!!! We had sunflowers once out West and I did love them, but just set the heads here and there around the yard and on a bird feeder platform (think we only had a dozen plants) and let the birds (and the pesky squirrels) take their fill. I love thinking how happy the beautiful cardinals will be this winter visiting your yard!

    1. Oh, Thank you!
      Although it got kind of huge and out of hand, it was a fun project.

  3. You have the best adventures. We have done sunflowers but leave them and the finches, especially the yellow ones, come a calling and harvest for us. They also love to rip apart any zinnias I might have in the pots. We got a sock of thistle seeds one year and we must have had a out 30 yellow finches working it over. I have never seen so many in one place at the same time. Worked on it a couple of,days and then they were gone!!

    1. I hope you took photos of those 30 yellow finches! What a picture!