Friday, February 5, 2010

sunflowers for food and oil

Sunflowers are some of the easiest plants to grow and have an assortment of uses around a homestead. Not only are they a nutritious and delicious snack but they can be hulled and used in salads, made into nut butter, fed to livestock, serve as bird feeders and made into oils. Sunflower seeds contain calcium and iron and have no cholesterol in them. The fats in sunflower seeds are mostly polyunsaturated linoleic acid.

Sunflowers are direct sown into the soil once all chances of frost have passed. Plants seeds 1/2 to 1 inch in the ground and watch them grow.The giant varieties do have a tendency to grow to height of 12- 14 feet which does make the seed heads susceptible to being windblown and knocked over. For the giant breeds i mound the soil at the base of the plant in an attempt to give them a sturdy foundation . Sunflowers have about a 90 or so day harvest time so they can grow in most any zone.

Sunflowers can begin being harvested when the back of the seed heads turn yellow or when the center flowers turn brown.Simply cut the heads off , leaving a piece of stem to hang them in a well ventilated place to finish drying. Cover them with netting, paper sacks with holes or cheesecloth to catch falling seeds as they dry.

They can be allowed to dry on the stalk, but you'll have to cover them this way to keep the birds from eating them all before you can harvest them for yourself. If you grow sunflowers for the purpose of feeding birds, you can either leave them in the ground, or harvest the heads as above, then hang them in the yard or garden when they are ready. This method has an advantage in that you can dole out the heads over the winter, instead of seeing the seed all eaten within a few weeks.

When the seeds fall easily from the head, they are dry and the seeds are ready for roasting. If you have a lot of plants to rub, wear some gloves  as it will
Remove the seeds and remove any debris from them.

From here what I do is take the seeds that are cleaned and soak them in a 1/4 cup salt to a quart of water solution for about 12 hours. Then I place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and slow roast them in an oven set on the lowest setting until they are dry and ready for storage. This generally takes between 3 and four hours. Stir them a couple of times during the roasting process. If you intend to store them for any length of time, put them in jars while still warm and close tightly. They keep very well in a cool dark place. Some variations call for mixing a teaspoon of melted butter with a cup of seeds while they are still warm from the oven, (these are for immediate eating only ) or roasting them until they are browned instead of just dry.

To make nut butter 
Start with raw seeds, and shell them by putting them in a cloth bag or wrapping them in a cotton cloth, then pound (gently!) with the flat side of a hammer, or something similar. Don't smash them, just crush them. When they're mostly crushed, pour them into cold water and stir a time or two to let the loosened hulls rise to the top. Skim these off, and stir again, as many times as it takes. When nothing but sunflower kernels are left, (you may have to pick through them) pour off the water, and spread to dry.Put them in a food processor and let it do the work. ( you can use a blender.) More labor intensive, is to use a clean glass jar or bottle and crush the seeds against the bottom of a bowl. It takes more time, but connoisseurs claim that the butter tastes better when it's hand made. If the butter seems dry and clumpy, add a little oil, about a quarter teaspoon, at a time, until you get the right consistency. Keep mixing until the butter is as smooth as you want it. You can add salt or not, but salt will help it keep better. store it in the refrigerator.

 to make  sunflower oil
A number of oil seeds can be grown here are some:
Corn 129 lbs of oil/acre or 18 gal/acre
Soybean 335 lb of oil/acre or 48 gal/acre
Flax 359 lb of oil/acre or 51 gal/acre
pumpkin seed 401 lb of oil/acre or 57 gal/acre
sunflowers 714 lb of oil/acre or 102 gal/acre
peanuts 795 lb of oil/acre or 113 gal/acre

As you can see sunflowers  per acre produce more any other oil producing plant but for peanuts. For those in the northern  states or places with a short grow season peanuts are near impossible to grow. Sunflowers on the other hand  are a viable  option  for most everyone.

For a good tutorial on making a home made seed huller and   oil press for  the sunflowers, I refer you to  Rodale's press. An article from 1979  explains the easiest methods of making both and for a  reasonable price, if not  at no cost.

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