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Time to put sunflowers in the bag

These mammoth sunflowers at the Fremont Community Garden are over 8 feet tall and will require
a ladder to bag the heads. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Save the seed with these easy tips

Bees love them. Birds love them. People enjoy them, too. Sunflowers add a lot to a summer garden, and August is all about the seeds. Opportunistic birds (and rodents) will harvest their own. But what if you want some for yourself?

Also, those giant heads will spread lots of seed in the garden if left to fully mature on the stalk.
When are the seeds ready? Look at the back of the sunflower head. It goes from green to yellow to brown. When the back is fully brown, the seeds are ripe.
Before those seeds disperse everywhere, bag the head. This helps collect the seeds as well as protect them from birds and critters. When the back of the head turns brown, slip a large paper grocery bag over the seed head and secure the bottom with twine or rubber bands. Leave it for a week as the seeds finish maturing, then cut the stalk 4 to 6 inches below the seed head. Place the bag right side up, somewhere out of direct sun. As the seeds dry, they'll fall off into the bag.

Paper works better than plastic, which may cause moisture build up and mold.

Is your sunflower head too big to fit in a bag? Wrap cheesecloth, sheeting or other light fabric around the seed head. (An old pillow case works.) Tie at the bottom around the stem. After cutting, keep the head wrapped until the seeds are dry and loose.
Plenty of seeds here for humans -- or birds.

When ready, the seeds often shake loose. Or you can gently pry them out with a fork or your fingers. Or you can rub the seeds off. Grip the stem and rub the head against a rough surface such as a washboard or corrugated metal. The seeds will pop right off.

As an edible decoration, sunflower stalks also may be cut a little early as the seeds are ripening (after the back of the head turns yellow). Hang the seed heads upside down to dry indoors, protected from birds. The seeds will be ready in about two weeks.

While birds aren't finicky about underripe seeds, sunflower seeds should be dried on the plant (or maturing seed head) for human consumption.

How to roast sunflower seeds: Remove ripe seeds from seed head. If you want them salted, soak seeds overnight in salted water (1 cup salt to 1 gallon water). Drain. Then, dry the seeds in the oven. Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F. Slow-roast seeds in oven for 4 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Store roasted seeds in air-tight container.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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