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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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