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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 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

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

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

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

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

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

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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