This year has been particularly good for volunteer sunflowers (originating from bird seed) and we have managed a great show, mainly within the four sisters bed. Some we have allowed to grow in situ and some I have transplanted from the places they originally germinated. The continued good weather has meant that seeds have formed within the flower heads and they have not simply rotted, as has happened in previous years.
There are still some lovely blooms, but a couple of the heads have seeds that are fully developed and, after a little more ripening, will be good to harvest. We could simply leave them in place and let the birds feed directly on them, but I have a feeling that the stems will not continue to support the heavy heads for too much longer, Anyway, the birds are currently showing no interest in these seeds and continue to focus on the familiar feeders. In fact, this year is set to be an amazing one for wild seeds and berries, so the birds may not need our help! I could cut the heads and enclose them in a mesh bag, placing them somewhere dry to allow the seeds to fall out on their own. Alternatively, it’s possible to scrape the seeds off the head using a spoon once the heads have dried so the back is yellow or brown, not green. Or, I could follow the advice of Buffalo Bird Woman:
The sunflower heads were dried face downward, that the sun falling on the back of the head might dry and shrink the fiber, thus loosening the seeds… When the heads had dried about four days, the seeds were threshed out… To thresh the heads, a skin was spread and the heads laid on it face downward, and beaten with a stick
So, depending how energetic I’m feeling, there are a number of approaches! I quite like the idea of beating them with a stick.
The question then, is what to use them for… such versatile things. We may simply feed them to the wild birds or to the chickens, but I do like bread with sunflower seeds in it, so feeding them to us also seems like a good option. In that case I need to remove them from their shells. Buffalo Bird Woman describes parching the seeds so that the hulls split open, then pounding them to flour, but there seems to be some sort of threshing stage missing from her description. You can, apparently, whizz them in a food processor briefly, then put them in water, so that the shells float and the seeds sink. The other suggestion I have seen is to put them through a grain mill (I have one of these) to crack open the hulls and then to thresh them (or perhaps use the flotation technique). I think some experimentation is needed! I will report back; or perhaps some one out there knows better and can tell me what will work?
This unexpected harvest has made me enthusiastic to grow more sunflowers, but the pragmatist in me says that we are unlikely to have many more summers that will provide the right conditions. So, I think that I will continue to nurture any volunteers and just rejoice when (if) I do ever manage another crop.