Soaring sunflowers

These sunny giants bring old-fashioned charm and a bounty of edible seeds. Here's how to grow and harvest them.

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Harvest tips

1. Cover flower heads. To keep birds and squirrels from feeding on seeds, cover each flower head with burlap, cheesecloth, or a paper bag as soon as the petals begin to fall.

2. Harvest seeds. When seed shells are plump ― but before they dry out and begin to loosen ― cut off the flower head. Store at room temperature in a dark place until shells are completely dry (three to four weeks). To remove the seeds, firmly massage flower head with gloved hands.

3. Roast seeds. In a 4-quart pot filled with 2 quarts water, add ¾ cup salt and 3 cups seeds. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Drain seeds and dry well on paper towels. In a 300° oven, bake seeds on a large cookie sheet, stirring frequently until crisp, about 1 hour. Remove seeds from oven, let cool, and store in an airtight container.

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