Prepper Friends – Sunflower Seeds by R. Ann Parris for PrepperGroups.com
Among the many things we can buy on store shelves pretty much everywhere are some particularly multi-functional and fairly inexpensive items that offer big benefits to preppers of all ages, all levels, and all locations, apartment flat to significant acreage.
Today’s targeted prepper helper: Sunflower Seeds.
There’s a whole world of sunflowers, like the super-compact and incredibly adorable pom-pom “teddy bear” that makes incredibly small seed. Mostly, though, preppers are going to run into two general types. BOSS, Black-Oil Sunflower Seeds, is the black seed we find in birdseed mixes and use for commercial oils. Confectioner sunflowers are the pale gray-tan seeds with black stripes that we find roasted for snacking and inside muesli and nut bar mixes.
BOSS tends to be both smaller seeds and smaller plants. Some share the tendency toward a single flower on a single stalk that’s usually associated with towering confectioner types, but BOSS plants more commonly have multiple branches and flower heads.
They have individual pro-con’s, but they share some benefits, and can be considered interchangeable for this particular highlight.
Buy a Bag…
…or five, or fifteen. We do want to exercise some restraint, because sunflower seeds are oily and as such, pretty perishable. We’re looking for raw sunflower, which adds to the perishability and which can make BOSS a whole lot easier to source inexpensively compared to raw confectioner seeds.
They’ll hold 12+ months and much, much longer if they’re in normal household room temperatures or a cellar with less temperature fluctuation and lower high temperatures.
We’ll most likely want to keep that bag in a bucket with a lid or a storage tote we can seal with tape, to limit pest intrusions and moisture damage.
Sunflower seed use spans the food pyramid.
We can absolutely use it to produce oils for cooking and seasoning. We can use the meal byproduct or whole-ground seeds to replace part of the flour in recipes, or in place of any acorn or cattail starch or nut recipes we have. We can also whip up our own nut-like butters, and use them for crunch, texture, and protein and fat boots in our salads and Oriental noodles, anywhere we’d use another nut or seed.
They go way beyond, though.
We can use sunflower seeds to produce the base of those salads, too, by “sprouting”. (Technically, it’s going to be a microgreen, not a sprout.)
We can grow those sprouts indoors even with very little space. Because we’re going to harvest early, they only need about 0.5-1” of soil, and it doesn’t need to be particularly rich. Played-out soils from previous growing is perfect. Dirt from the lawn will work so long as it isn’t treated with herbicides, although weed competition is difficult to deal with small greens. We can cut a heavy clay or even a store-bought potting mix with 30-50% sand or vermiculite.
We can even grow them on pool filter mesh or flattened luffa, providing them with a nutrient-rich feeder water – which can be easily produced by running a second pot of coffee or cup of tea from our used grounds or bags (let it cool).
They’ll produce best if we presoak them 8-24 hours in room-temperature – not hot – water, then spread a tight layer that overlaps slightly across the top of our medium. With soil-based growing, we can cover them with an additional 1/8” to 1/4” of soil.
Soil or soilless media, top them with something non-porous like an additional plate, tray or cup that will keep light but firm pressure on them while blocking light, and keep them damp. When 50-70% of the seeds are peeking through the soil or have quarter-inch stem sprouts as well as tails, we can permanently remove the weight and light blocker.
From there, they’ll either need a grow light or window, somewhere protected from chill and drafts. We’ll likely want to rotate the tray for even growth.
We can strengthen and “bulk” the sprouts by running our hands back and forth over them lightly. As they grow, that’ll also help remove excess shells.
Once they’re a couple inches tall and starting to leaf out well, they’re ready to harvest with a sharp knife and use as we would any fresh or cooked green.
Sunflower seeds are also feed.
We can also use them to boost the egg production and weight gain of standard domestic poultry and small livestock like rabbits, especially through winter and spring, and they can help us keep less-common birds like dove and pigeon – from trapping them to feeding them while they establish a home nest, and keeping them attuned to us and returning to their cote. All of those also help us develop protein and fats for our continuing food self-sufficiency.
They also let us “farm” small game animals like squirrels for possible future need with standard birdfeeders or just by tossing some here and there, and if we run into a pest problem, they’ll work as rat-trap bait.
Resupply is easy, too.
Some sunflowers need more space than others, but with a 3-5 gallon bucket or fairly deep storage tote, we can easily grow a stalk or two to maintain a constantly rotating supply.
Sunflowers are fairly greedy plants that will suppress others, so they don’t work well as companions (not even in Three Sisters mods, not without heavy, heavy feeding and watering). They’re pretty easy, though and if we’re willing to take a serious production hit, they can serve as climbing poles for lightweight semi-runner or compact pole beans and vines such as nasturtium or malbar spinach, with those sown or transplanted after the sunflower is 6-12” tall.
Planted as singles, pairs, and trios, BOSS will be more productive for us, and the more compact plants lend themselves better to small spaces and containers. Pollinators will make use of them, but as the central flowers develop into seed, we’ll likely want to net them with mesh onion bags, tulle, or similar to prevent losses to birds.
Once they start drying, just whack the head off and hang anywhere besides a steamy washroom – loosely bagged in a closet, from hooks in a hallway’s ceiling, a garden twine chain in a corner of the shed. Lay a tarp and flip a bicycle or use a low-speed powered mower tire to make getting them off the flower head a speedy snap, or don some gloves and work thumbs from the center outward.
That’s it. The next crop of seed is ready for oil, salads, snacking, or boosting the feed of domestic and wild critters.