Q&A: My sunflowers won’t set seed

Q. I would like to harvest my own sunflower seeds to eat. But last year my plants produced no seeds. I have planted a different variety this year. How can I be sure it will set seed? And if it does, how do I harvest them?

A. You need to make sure you grow a variety that produces them. Many modern-day sunflowers are actually sterile and therefore won’t produce seeds – check your seed packet to be certain. If it says pollen-free (great for those who suffer from hay fever) your sunflower won’t set viable seed if grown on its own or if it doesn’t get fertilised by a pollen-bearing variety. If you do have a seed-producing variety, cover the flower heads with frost cloth or old pantyhose when you notice the seeds beginning to develop, usually  late summer (this is to stop the birds getting to them before you do). When the heads start to droop and the backs turn yellow, the seeds are ready to harvest. Snip off the flower heads, leaving a 50cm stem, and hang in a dry, well-ventilated spot to dry. When seeds have loosened, place a piece of chicken wire over a bucket and rub the seed heads back and forth over the wire, letting the seeds fall into the bucket.

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