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Sunday, September 13, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Practical Gardener

How To Prepare Sunflower Seeds For Snacking

Q: My garden has mammoth sunflowers. How can I prepare them for snacking?

A: What a sunny summer we've had for growing sunflowers! The seeds are ready to harvest when the flower has completely faded - when about half the yellow ray flowers have fallen out. To keep birds from pecking out the ripening seeds, enclose the growing sunflower heads in a loose gathering of cheesecloth. Cut the head with about 12 inches of stem, then suspend it in a dry place with good air circulation; you may want to enclose it in cheesecloth to catch seeds that fall out.

Store seeds in a cool, dry place in small containers. It's best to store them untreated (unroasted, unsalted and unhulled). Roasting and salting should be done as you wish to eat them.

One good roasting method, also tasty for squash and pumpkin seeds, is: Mix thoroughly two cups of unwashed seeds, 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, margarine or oil, 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon salt. Spread out on a shallow oiled baking pan; roast for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees F, until browned. Stir or shake the pan occasionally during roasting, and check to make sure seeds don't scorch. Store the roasted seeds in the refrigerator. Try this with those Halloween pumpkin seeds!

Q: What's eating holes in my tomato fruit?

A: Slugs are our first thought when we see large quantities of tissue gone. Slugs eat tomato fruit but, if you don't see slime trails, the culprit may be a cutworm. Cutworms (and army worms) are a group of hairless caterpillars with various stripes and spots.

In other parts of the country, cutworms eat the stems of seedlings and that's about it. Ours are just getting warmed up at that point. We have climbing cutworms, so their feasting is not limited to ground level.

The best control is hand-picking. These guys are 1 to 2 inches long but their coloration allows them to blend in. Some species are nocturnal, so check the plant in late evening with a flashlight. Cultivating the soil around affected plants should help, as will careful attention to garden sanitation.

Q: Last fall after the first frost, I harvested my golden Hubbard squash and a Winter Keeper sweet meat variety. Both squash were very, very dry when baked or boiled and had little flavor. What did I do wrong?

A: It's doubtful that your squash's lack of quality was due to the care you gave it while it was growing. It's possible the frost may have created the problem, since more than a few degrees of frost could cause quality loss or keeping ability. Winter squash should be harvested before any significant frost hits and should be stored at 50 to 55 degrees with a relative humidity of 70 to 75 percent. They maintain best quality under this regimen and should last in good condition for up to 6 months. Higher storage temperatures may lead to quality loss. When considerable moisture is lost from the fruit, dry flesh may result. Also, don't store squash near apples, since off flavors may result.

Q: I'd like to replace my scruffy lawn now. What to do?

A: Lawn repair or replacement needs to wait for more reliable water supplies. Later this month, and in October, when we begin to get fall rains, are generally good times for seeding new lawn patches or laying down sod. Unless you live on a water system where you can water at will (certainly not in Seattle), don't undertake lawn work now. We'll cover specific techniques and suggestions in upcoming columns.

Gardening runs Friday in Scene and Sunday in Home/Real Estate. It is prepared by George Pinyuh and Holly Kennell, Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension agents, Mary Robson, Master Gardener program assistant, and volunteer Master Gardeners.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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