Growing your own popcorn is a fairly simple process. A decent sized harvest of 5 or 6 quarts of popcorn really doesn’t even take up much space in your garden!
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We eat a lot of popcorn around here. We make at least a batch a week, some times more. Plain, buttered, caramel and more we love it!! We even grind up popcorn in an electric mill to make our own corn meal for corn bread and muffins!! One thing we don’t like is microwave popcorn. Wow if you want a shock just look at all the junk that goes into a bag of microwave popcorn! Yuck!! We always pop our own corn with an air popper and we usually use an organic GMO free popcorn.
A few years ago we decided to give growing our own popcorn a try and we have been super happy with the results. This is our 2014 harvest. Over 70 ears of corn!! It’s super tasty, fairly easy to grow and fun for the kids! And with the right varieties you can just tuck them into little spaces around your garden and you don’t even have to sacrifice a big block of space for them. So here’s everything you need to know about growing your own popcorn.
Growing your own Popcorn
First and most importantly if you are growing your own popcorn you (and your neighbors) can’t grow sweet corn! There needs to be at least 100 feet separation between popcorn and any other type of corn. If not, the two types of corn will cross-pollinate and ruin both crops. So if you live in a traditional neighborhood then you and all your surrounding neighbors can’t be growing any other corn. If you are blessed to live on a large lot then be sure to have that 100-foot separation between the two types of corn.
Cross Pollination can be a struggle to understand. I wrote a whole post on corn crossing that you can read here.
Next plant early! Most popcorn matures in around 105 days. I would plan on at least 3 ½ months from start to finish. So be sure to get the corn in the ground right around (or even a little before) your last frost date so that the ears have plenty of time for growing your own popcorn.
Give your Popcorn lots of water
Third, popcorn likes lots of water! Be sure to plant your popcorn in an area where you can get it a lot of water. The first time we planted popcorn it went in what I would consider a very dry part of our garden. We were rewarded for our short-sightedness with very few and very small ears! Since then we have been sure to plant in areas where it’s easy to get lots of water and the corn has thrived with 2 or 3 ears per stalk.
Thinks about organic fertilizer
Also, don’t forget that corn is a heavy feeder. That means they use up a lot of the nitrogen in the soil. So if you fertilize be sure to give the corn some. If you are more organic then be sure to plant the corn in a rich spot of soil and then follow the corn the following year with something like peas or beans that will help replace the nitrogen lost to the corn. For those of you that would like to use an organic fertilizer, I would recommend liquid Fish Emulsion.
Choose the Hill Method
Don’t worry about planting a big patch with long rows. Instead, plant your popcorn in small hills that have 5 to 7 plants each. These hills don’t need to be much more than 18 inches round and can be tucked in an empty space in your garden. The 5 to 7 plants, planted close together will pollinate each other and you don’t have to worry about the giant patch of corn taking up space. You could even plant a hill or two in a large flower bed, this would add a nice tall visual element to your flower bed and give you something to talk to the neighbors about!
Popcorn is ready to pick when the stalks and ears are completely dry. Once you pick the corn the ears will need to cure for 3 to 4 weeks. Curing popcorn makes awesome fall decorations. So when you shuck the corn carefully pull some of the husks back and leave it attached for a great decoration. We usually remove the husk and then let the corn sit outside in the sun for a week or so (just be sure it doesn’t get rain or frost on it). Then we bring it inside and either hang it in the garage or spread it out on our onion drying rack for a few more weeks.
Shelling your popcorn
The ears are ready for shelling when the kernels come off with a fairly aggressive twisting of the ear. Depending on how you look at it shelling is either the most fun part of popcorn or the worst. If you have a ton to do you should make a family project out of it, trust me 70 ears is a lot to do by yourself. And be sure to wear gloves if you are doing more than just a couple of ears. Popcorn is a little rough on your hands.
You can pop the corn right on the cob if you would like. Simply put the cob in a paper bag and put it in the microwave. This is kind of fun for the kids to do, but to be honest it usually burns a bit so we prefer to shell it from the cobs and then pop it in an Air Popper or on the stove top.
Storing your popcorn
Once you shell the corn, store it in sealed glass jars in a cool dark spot. If your corn isn’t popping it may need a little more curing time, so let is sit for a couple of weeks in the jar and then try again!
If you have a grain mill, homegrown popcorn makes great cornmeal. I like this fact because that makes popcorn the only “grain” crop I can think of that you can grow easily in the home garden!!
We have grown two different varieties of popcorn, Yellow Hulless and Yellow Hybrid both from Mountain Valley Seed Company. If I were to pick a favorite I would go with the Yellow Hulless as it had bigger ears and kernels. There are lots of different colors available too, I’ve seen yellow, white, red, purple and even blue!
If anyone has suggestions on growing your own popcorn varieties I’d love to hear from you. I’d especially like to hear about any open-pollinated or heirloom varieties you have tried!