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Harvesting sunflower seed efficiently at scale

 
pollinator
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I am trying my hand at scaling up sunflower oil production this year, close to an acre planted. Harvest time is on as the local birds have discovered the crop and it is disappearing as I type faster than I care to think about. I am currently hand scything heads and filling a garden cart and then tying and hanging bundles to dry. Anyone have any better techniques or tips of folks producing small scale harvesting equipment? Tractor or 2-wheel tractor attachments welcome, would love to find a small tractor header. Thanks
 
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I found tying them to be a hassle. It was much easier to stack them on wire shelves. I didn't have a scythe, but a machete worked really well. Be very careful to keep the mice out, because they can eat your whole crop before you know they're there.
 
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I have no idea if this is helpful but...

When I worked for Agriculture Canada as a Summer student we used rice binders to harvest wheat because we grew experimental varieties in small patches and threshed it by hand. I'm not sure how large the stocks are on sunflowers grown for oil crops but these puppies are easy to use and pop out neat little bundles of whatever your clolecting. I don't think they're cheap though.

Just an idea from someone who knows nothing about sunflower crops.

 
stephen lowe
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:I found tying them to be a hassle. It was much easier to stack them on wire shelves. I didn't have a scythe, but a machete worked really well. Be very careful to keep the mice out, because they can eat your whole crop before you know they're there.


So were you heaping them on top of each other or just a single layer? And it sounds like there was some stem along with the head?
My only concern with stacking them (aside from rodents) is that we have a super humid climate so molds can spread fast
 
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I only use this method if I plan on eating them.  I have used solid copper 12 gauge wire before.  Put a washer on the end to keep them from sliding off the end.  I cut the sun flowers about 1' from the flower and put the wire through the stem about 5" from the flower.  I'll put about 5 flowers on each wire and then hang them to dry.

For animal feed.  I just get as many seeds out of the heads in the fields as easily possible then lay them out on wire screens to dry mixing them a few times a day till dry.

I have not found any small scale equipment for harvesting sunflowers.  
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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stephen lowe wrote:

Ellendra Nauriel wrote:I found tying them to be a hassle. It was much easier to stack them on wire shelves. I didn't have a scythe, but a machete worked really well. Be very careful to keep the mice out, because they can eat your whole crop before you know they're there.


So were you heaping them on top of each other or just a single layer? And it sounds like there was some stem along with the head?
My only concern with stacking them (aside from rodents) is that we have a super humid climate so molds can spread fast



I stacked them 2 layers deep, but offset so that the 2nd layer was over the gaps in the first.
 
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I might switch to a chainsaw, back when I did corn, that is what I used to harvest the stalks. It was fast and easy. I just walked down the row and over they toppled.

As for a homestead way to do an acre of sunflowers, I have two ideas, but none have I tried...

1. Take the heads and throw them into a homestead sized Chipper/Shredder. I have a 10 HP Tomahawk Chipper/Shredder and use it quite often for making corn silage or mixing feed like Alfalfa Cubes with grain for a custom lamb ration. I cannot see why that what not beat off the seeds from the big heads. You make have to have a secondary screaning process to screen out the pulpy-debris from the seeds, but that would be easier to do than digging out individual seeds from the head. Shaking the outflow of the chipper/shredder over hardware cloth would get you fairly clean seed I would think.

2. Along the same lines is using a cement mixer. I would think if the heads were somewhat dry, beating around in the drum over and over again would dislodge the seeds. If you wanted too, you might add some type of "shot", like rocks or baseballs to help dislodge the seeds, but as I have not tried this, I am not sure what the perfect DIY system would be. I am just thinking of a low cost machine to get you started.

Both machines can be bought at Harbor Freight on the cheap side, and might make for a nice test machine. If something worked, you could scale it up. You might also be able to borrow, or rent these machines as a test.

For what it is worth, I would like to make my own sunflower harvester as well, probably a purpose-built machine to go on my tractor as we want to raise small grains. I include sunflowers in that equasion.
 
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