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!
To learn more about planting corn in hills instead of rows read this post!
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!
Your corn always looks so pretty. I’d love to grow popcorn, but with my husband’s love of sweet corn, it just doesn’t make the cut.
We are lucky that we currently have two garden spots so we don’t have to choose. But if it came down to it I think we would probably grow popcorn and buy our sweet corn from the local farm up the street that grows it with out pesticides!!
Great info on growing popcorn. I’m planning to finally grow some sweet corn next year but also have popcorn on my list. I’ll have to calculate the number of feet between our main veg beds and the hill where I will be growing the sweet corn – it may just hit the 100′ threshold.
Everything I’ve read tells me that 100 feet is very important for popcorn!! Lucky for us none of our close neighbors gardens so we are safe!!
How do you keep animals from eating it? Raccoons and deer eat any corn we plant every single year. Last year we didn’t plant any at all for that reason.
Wildlife is always a problem. Deer can be kept out using a tall fence. That will be less effective with Raccoons. A dog can help keep them away, also depending on your local regulations you may be able to trap and relocate raccoons. But please don’t do that unless you know it is allowed in your area.
Great post! Since I grow popcorn pretty regularly, I thought I’d chip in two notes.
1) There are currently no GMO varieties of popcorn. Depending on your preferences, you’ll still have to check if your seed is organic or not, but all popcorn is GMO free.
2) If separating sweet corn and popcorn by space is not an option, you may be able to separate it by time. Check the length of your growing season and the maturity dates of the types of corn you wish to grow. You may be able to plant them so that they do not flower at the same time. This minimizes cross-pollination and allows you to grow sweet corn and popcorn next to each other. Of course, separating by space is best, but for those of us who can’t manage it, this might be an option.
Thanks again for the great post!
Adelaide @ Clay Clan Cultivates
Fascinating! We are just about to plant our corn here (Australia)… Unfortunately we don’t have the space to separate the plantings of sweet and pop, so sweet it will be. Maybe next year I can be organised enough to try the spacing by time that Sandra mentioned.
Thank you for piquing my interest!
Wow I have never heard of this it sounds so exciting. I am going to try and find popcorn seed for planting in Australia. Thanks for this info. I would love it if you would link up at Good Morning Mondays at Darling Downs Diaries. Blessings
Good luck finding them. I’m sure they are out there. Thanks for the suggestion I will stop by next Monday!!
Can u recommemd an inexpensive manual mill?
I’m sorry B, the mill we have is electric, we’ve never used a manual mill.
Can u grow in a container? That’s the only way we can plant now
You can give it a try, plant about 6 seeds per pot in large containers (at least 5 gallons). Keep it WELL watered. I’ve not had much luck with corn in containers but I am terrible about remembering to water my containers. Give it a try and see how it does.
As a popcorn lover, I am so ready to try this too! We used to grow regular corn in our yard. Your tips are so easy to follow. Thank you for sharing Growing your own Popcorn with us at the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I’m pinning and sharing.
You have me wanting to grow my own popcorn! I’m in zone 7. My only fear is the deer and raccoons getting to the popcorn before I can! Do you have this problem? Thank you!
We have Raccoon issues every once in a great while. We are fairly urban where we live so both the deer and the Raccoon’s have to travel almost a mile to get to our place. We see them on rare occasions.
My 3 year old LOVES popcorn and we have a spot in our garden that gets lots of water. We don’t grow sweet corn so this will be perfect! It is going on our garden list this year. About how many jars did those 70 ears fill?
The year we got 70 ears it filled just shy of 6 quart jars. The last few years we have only got around 50 ears because we haven’t planted quite as much.