Answer: You could wrap them in cheesecloth to exclude insects and feasting birds, but another key factor is in harvesting them early enough. The seeds will begin to change color and the head will begin to hang. At that point you can harvest the whole head and begin the drying process. Here are some basic instructions:
Wait until the petals fall and
the heads begin to droop. You'll notice the back of the seed heads will begin to turn
yellow instead of green. Cut them along with about 2' of stem and hang them upside down
to dry in a dry, well-ventilated place such as a garage or attic, until fully dry. Remove the
seeds by rubbing two heads together, or by using a stiff brush. Spread out the seeds until
fully dry and store in plastic bags (make sure there is no condensation on the bag or they will rot) , or soak overnight in a strong salt solution, drain, spread
on a shallow baking sheet, and roast at 200F degrees until crisp. The recipes vary on the
amount of salt to use. Try a half cup to a quart of water - if that's not salty enough, add
more for your next batch. Depending upon size, your sunflower seeds can take 30
minutes to 3 hours to dry in the oven. Test often by taking a few seeds out of the oven,
allowing to cool, and crunching between your teeth. You'll know when they're crispy dry.
Store in an airtight container.
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