You don’t have to live in Kansas to enjoy sunflowers in the garden! Sunflowers are easy and fun to grow. From tall varieties that reach for the sky to dwarf types that are knee-high, there’s a variety to suit every gardener’s needs. Since they grow very quickly, children enjoy watching them grow–and the large seeds are easy for small fingers to handle. Plus, if you buy a good eating variety, you can harvest the seeds and teach the kids to roast them for a healthy snack!
- Plant in full sun, where they will not shade other plants, or plant shade-lovers around them.
- Plant the seeds 1 inch deep and about 6 inches apart.
- When the seedlings come up, thin them to about 18 inches apart.
- Water well after planting and keep fairly moist, but not soggy, until the seeds sprout.
Sunflower seedlings will come up in one or two weeks. They will start out slowly, then speed up their growth rate. Children can be responsible for watering them, weeding around them and adding mulch around the plants.
Harvesting of sunflower heads is quick and easy–but you may need a ladder or stepstool if you are growing tall varieties. Watch the birds; when they start going after the seed heads, cover the heads with cheesecloth to protect the seeds. The seed heads will be ready to harvest when their backs are brown and dry and no traces of green remain.
Cut off the heads with a foot or two of stalk. Hang them upside down in a dry and airy place. When the seeds are dried, rub them off with your hand and store them in an airtight container. Don’t wash them, as this could cause them to mold.
To roast sunflower seeds, place a single layer of raw dehulled kernels in a shallow pan. Roast in a 300 degree F oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until they are brown and crisp. Stir occasionally. Remove from the oven. One teaspoon of melted margarine may be added if preferred for each cup of seeds; stir to evenly coat. Place the seeds on absorbent paper. Salt to taste. Store in a tightly covered container.
For salted in-the-shell seeds, cover unhulled seeds with salted water in the amount of 2 quarts of water to 1/4-1/2 cup salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours. Drain and dry on absorbent paper. Seeds may also be soaked overnight instead of boiled. Then proceed as for the roasted kernels above.