Harvesting and Drying Sunflowers

There’s more to harvesting and drying sunflowers than many growers realize. How soon you decide to harvest them will depend largely on energy costs, temperatures, and whether you prefer them to dry naturally. Ideally, your sunflowers won’t be exposed to insects and diseases, and the temperature will be warm enough to allow them to dry on the stem. However, those circumstances are rare. In reality, most crops will be vulnerable to some level of pests and diseases. And depending upon where you live, the temperature can cause your sunflowers to freeze.

In this article, I’ll explain some of the benefits of harvesting your sunflowers early. I’ll also describe how they’re dried and why the moisture in the air can affect your crops.

Benefits Of Harvesting Early

With energy expenses escalating, you might think that allowing your sunflowers to dry naturally is a good idea. But, there are plenty of reasons why you should consider harvesting them early. First, if the temperature is close to freezing during the evenings, your sunflower crops are not actually drying. The moisture is being sealed inside. But, even if you’re not growing your sunflowers in freezing temperatures, there are still many advantages to an early harvest.

For example, the weather can often be harsh for sunflowers. Rain and strong winds can pummel your crops and prevent them from drying properly. Also, keep in mind that the longer you allow your crops to stay outside, the more vulnerable they’ll be to insects, birds, and other pests. What’s more, they’re more susceptible to mildew, mold, and diseases.

Sunflowers also have to cope with weeds, which can become a problem if they’re not managed. You can use chemicals to control them, but their effectiveness is often limited, depending upon the weather and soil. If you own a high-power dryer that can output high temperatures, consider an early harvest to dry them yourself.

sunflower seeds
sunflower seeds drying on the head

Temperature And Moisture

There are many places where the air has increased capacity to hold moisture during the harvest season (for example, South and North Dakota). When this is the case, your crops will dry more quickly. Sunflowers, because of their ability to take advantage of past crops’ residual fertility, can be especially resilient in this type of weather. And the higher the temperature, the more capacity for moisture the air has. In that case, you might be able to allow your sunflowers to dry on the stem a little longer. Of course, you’ll still need to be vigilant about protecting them from critters, insects, and weeds.

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Harvesting Your Sunflowers

Years ago, growers harvested their sunflowers when the backs of the heads began to turn brown. However, many crops today come from hybrids and should actually be harvested when the heads are still yellow.

When your crops have a seed moisture of about 35%, you should consider harvesting them. You can actually wait until the moisture level is approximately 12%, but you’ll run the risk of a fire in your combine. This is another benefit of an early harvest. The damper the seeds, the less likely a combine fire will occur. Plus, damp seeds are less likely to break apart while threshing. When the seed moisture is around 10%, there’s far more breakage.

Even though letting your sunflowers dry naturally tends to cost less and be lower maintenance, it’s no longer always the best choice. Today, the combines and high-temperature dryers we use allow us to harvest early and thereby further protect our crops from insects, disease and bad weather.

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson

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