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Big Grow how to grow and use no.7: Sunflowers

This one isn't such an obvious food plant- but the seeds are great for humans and birds to eat (also mice, if you don't store them carefully...)


How to Grow and Use SUNFLOWERS

Photo credit: RHS Grow Social- and thanks also to the RHS Grow Social program for providing some of the sunflower seeds to us.


Grow and pick SUNFLOWERS


Plant seeds indoors in pots from March to June or outdoors from May to June.

Push seeds into compost about one finger joint deep and water well.


Keep the soil moist but pour away excess water so the seeds don’t rot.


Different varieties of sunflower can grow anywhere from 40cm to 4m tall. Very tall varieties may fall over– help them stay up by tying them to a strong stick pushed into the ground.


They like to grow somewhere sunny.


The flowers will open in the day and turn to follow the sun, then close at night.

Wait for the petals to die and the seed head to start drying out before cutting off the whole head and hanging it somewhere dry to store.


Shelling sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are a tasty food, but the hard husks need removing before you can eat them.


You can do this one at a time with fingers and teeth for a snack, or lots at a time, to get enough to cook with:


  1. Push the seeds out of the flower head with your fingers.

  2. Gently crush with a rolling pin or in a food processor to break and separate the husks without crushing the seeds.

  3. Either pick out the seeds with your fingers, or tip everything into a bowl of water. The husks should float to the top and the seeds sink. Pour the husks off to make separating the seeds out easier.

  4. Leave the seeds to dry, then store in a sealed container.


Sunflower seed pesto (serves 4)


1/2 cup sunflower seeds 1 cup basil leaves

1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil 1 clove garlic

Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

Blend all the ingredients together, then serve with pasta, salads or on toast



Feed the birds and other ideas

Sunflower seeds aren’t only tasty for people– lots of other animals love them too.

Hang whole sunflower heads outside from a balcony or tree in winter for bluetits, robins and other small birds to eat. They’ll hang off the seedhead to peck seeds out one at a time.


Mix sunflower seeds with vegetable fat or lard to make high energy bird feeders for winter– melt the fat, stir the seeds in and mould onto a branch for an easy bird treat.


Save seeds to grow next year in a clean plastic tub or paper bag over winter and plant more sunflowers in spring. Plant seeds indoors in March-April or outdoors in May-June.

With thanks to RHS Grow Social for providing sunflower seeds

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