What is the proper way to harvest sunflowers?
—Mac Parker, Vancouver, WA
Most people harvest sunflowers well before the seeds are ripe, to make sure birds don’t get to the seeds first. To protect the seed from birds, slip a paper or cheesecloth bag (not plastic) over each sunflower once its petals have dropped. When the backs of the flowers begin to change from green to yellow, cut off the flower heads with a few inches of stalk attached. Hang the heads in a dry, well-ventilated area.
When the back of the flower head turns dark brown, seeds are fully ripe. Rub the seeds with your hand, and they’ll come out easily. To prevent mold, store ripe raw seeds in a cloth bag rather than in an airtight container.