Vegetables and Fruit forum: Saving sunflower seeds

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New York (Zone 5a)
Aug 26, 2016 6:30 AM CST
I just harvested my first mammoth sunflower head, let it dry and was hoping to use the seeds for roasting. Though I noticed most of my seeds had holes in them with little red larvae crawling out along with tiny red beetles.

I'm wondering if it would still be safe to save seed for next year and safe to roast and eat if I picked out the undamaged ones. And If these buggers hatch inside or outside the sunflower seed.

Thanks for your help.

Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
Aug 26, 2016 3:05 PM CST
Hi, finnyc! Welcome to NGA.

Congratulations on getting a ripe sunflower head! I've had them killed by fungus in their veins more often than not.

Sorry, I don't know about eating possibly bug-infested seeds. More protein, maybe but ... yuck!

But since they are already dry, there's a standard method for killing bugs in seeds that can be frozen. Freeze them!

I think you have to leave them frozen for 2-3 days to get the full effect.

And someone suggested freezing once, then keeping them for a few weeks at room temperature, and freezing again. (maybe eggs hatch, and adults are more vulnerable than eggs?

Personally, I worry a lot about condensation making seeds damp, but most others don't worry as much.

I would AT LEAST double-bag the seeds with freezer bags to reduce condensation onto the inner bag.
Squeeze ALL the air out of both bags to reduce the condensation from trapped air.
Let them come ALL the way up to room temperature before opening even the outermost bag.

And, since I have silica gel for storing seeds good and dry, I put a small packet of desiccant into the inner and outer bags to further reduce condensation.

(Can you tell that I have a desiccant fetish?)

Any room air trapped in the bag WILL condense water as it cools. Without desiccant, those seeds would have 100% RH for the three days in the freezer, plus water droplets when they come back to room temperature.

I think that MOST people who freeze seeds to kill bugs give barely a thought to condensation, and still seem to have OK results.

But humidity on seeds is my second biggest gardening bug-a-boo, after "drainage and aeration" of soil in beds and containers. Please don't let my fetishes make you think that freezing seeds HAS TO be a major operation.

Also, some people swear by "diatomaceous earth". Those are dried diatoms with silica exoskeletons with lots of sharp points. I think the theory is that insects eat the DE, which then rips up their digestive tract. Sprinkle a little of that into the seed baggie, so that insects that emerge form one seed may eat some DE before drilling into another seed.

P.S. After you hand-pick out all the damaged seeds, or blow away the lightest ones, you can test the rest to see how many have hidden infestations.

Just take 10 or 20 seeds and germinate them on a moist coffee filter or paper towel inside a sandwich Baggie. Some seal the baggie to get 100% humidity, and some leave it cracked for fresh air. Watch them and remove seeds that show fuzzy fungus or mold, so the rest don't rot before sprouting.

P.P.S. Do you have an exact, reliable variety name? Some commercial sunflowers are F1 hybrid seed, which can give you a very fancy and predictable first crop, but seed savers will see them "go crazy" and produce all kinds of variety in the third generation (F3).

The question is, how consistent will F1 hybrids be in their SECOND generation, the F2 plants that will grow from the seeds you just saved (F2 seeds, if the parent was a hybrid). Sometimes the F2 is very much like the F1! Sometimes not, and sometimes very variable.

(You'll also find out, if you planted F1 hybrid seed, whether or not that sunflower variety is self-sterile. Some hybrids are. If so, none of your collected would germinate. But I don't know whether sunflower hybrids tend that way or not.)

"Variable F2 or F3" could mean that you get some great plants that no one ever grew before: The "Mammoth Finn Sunflower" variety!

And if your variety was an "OP" variety, it WILL "come true from seed" when pollinated only by itself.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
Aug 26, 2016 9:30 PM CST
Hi @Finnyc --

Did you see the responses to the same question on the Ask a Question forum? The thread "Harvested sunflower seeds have larvae, can i still save my batch?" in Ask a Question forum

Personally, I wouldn't have any interest in trying to harvest seeds to roast from that infested sunflower head. Sticking tongue out
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