Seed Saving Tips for Sunflowers & Tales of Great Grandma’s Seeds

by Amber on November 8, 2011

This time of year as the leaves turn crisp and the brush of the wind paints your cheeks pink, I wax nostalgic for Autumns past. I reflect back to the spring planting that is now fading away.

Saving Sunflower Seeds

Planting Spring Seeds
As a little girl, I started each spring trotting behind my dad as he dug rows of dirt along the side of our driveway. I hugged a 5-gallon plastic tub in both arms. It was light as a letter, yet plump full to the rim with glorious marigold seeds. I dipped my hand into the whisker-like slivers and scattered them graciously into the rows of soft, moist earth my father had separated.

Would these grow up to become yellow or orange? Would they have red tips? Or be deep chocolate brown? The promise of those seeds inspired me, and I thrilled at the notion that I would help create the beautiful, rich scented path that wound up and down our long driveway.

Mom said the original marigold seeds we planted came from her grandma, my great grandma Burde. In fact, many of our household and kitchen traditions came from Gram Burde.

All summer long, we enjoyed the thick musk of those brilliantly bright and burning marigolds. Their stunning cluster of colors standing heartily atop simple bushy leaves was my pride. And when summer faded to fall, it was with conviction that I heeded the task of planning for next summer’s glory.

As the color of the sunflower fades, next year's flower awaits inside the now-ready seeds.

Saving Seeds in Fall
When every marigold flower had lost all tints of color and life, when their once-fluffy tufts withered and shrank into themselves becoming a dried mass, I knew the secret to next summer lay inside. I would locate a new, clean 5-gallon tub and walk up and down the driveway popping the heads off the now-dead flowers. These I took inside to warmth and the kitchen table, where I would pull open the flower head to reveal dozens of fluffy seeds, anxious for their chance to be the next puffy flower cluster on Longmore Avenue.

Today, I no longer grow marigolds. I wish I still had those seeds that for years and years were regenerated from the seeds of my great grandmother. How we take for granted these yearly rituals which seem so commonplace.

Instead, I now grow sunflowers. I don’t line my driveway with them. I tuck them neatly into a corner of my vegetable garden next to tomatoes, zucchini, and melons—careful not to let them shade out my precious food supply.

Like the marigolds of my youth, they bring me great joy with their surprising array of golden, orange, yellow, and red heads. These massive bobs of color thrill me as they loom large above my head, nodding to the sun and stretching to the heavens. Remarkable!

As summer slips away and the cool air dries their fresh scent, these sunflowers reveal their intricate pattern of seeds ready for me to harvest. Winter has barely begun, but already I’m sealing next summer safely into tiny paper packets. Next time I see these seeds the warm sun of spring will be kissing my bare shoulders and tanning my back. Happy hibernation, my little seeds! I can’t wait to see you again soon.

Each seed rests securely in the large sunflower head--like a loose tooth waiting to be pulled.

How to Save Sunflower Seeds
Saving sunflower seeds is easy! Here are a few quick steps:

1)      Allow your sunflowers to dry on the stalks as summer fades to fall.

2)      Before the season’s first rain, trim the entire flower top off the sunflower stalk and leave it somewhere to dry completely (I use my garage)—about a week.

3)      Working over a dry, clean table top, use your finger to wiggle the individual sunflower seeds back and forth (like a loose tooth). They will fall on the table.

4)      Collect the seeds you have removed from the flower. I seal them in paper seed packets.

5)      Label the seeds with the name of the flower and the year of the harvest. Store in a dry, dark place until spring.

Seeds tucked safely away in paper packets till next spring.

Want more information about saving seeds? Here are a few good articles:

Mother Earth News writes about the easier seed-saving crops.

When you buy seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, each packet comes with instructions on how to save the seeds for next season.

The Chili Man shares some seed saving tips for our gardens hottest veggies.