Growing Popcorn at Home

Can You Grow Popcorn at Home?

Growing popcorn at home is possible, depending on where you live. If you live in the Corn Belt, growing popcorn in your home garden is easy. If you don't live in the corn belt states, you can still grow your own popcorn. If you can grow sweet corn or field corn, then you can grow popcorn. Just make sure to plant a variety that will mature within your growing season.

I've grown sweet corn in my Growing Spaces Dome. My neighbor grows his outside. The spring I’m going to try growing both sweet corn and pop corn in my outside gardens. Most popcorn varieties need about 110 days to mature. But my growing season is only 103 days, so I’ll need to find varieties that mature within that time frame. Note of caution: do not plant sweet corn and popcorn in the same area of the garden. If they cross-pollinate, it will lower the quality of both the sweet corn and the popcorn corn.

Types of Popcorn to Grow at Home

When growing popcorn at home, there are several decisions you need to make when selecting your seed. The first is to choose a variety that will grow within you growing season time frame.

Another decision to make when growing popcorn at home is the strain of popcorn. There are two popular strains: “snowflake”(sometimes called "butterfly") and “mushroom.” Snowflake makes big, puffy popcorn—the kind you get at the movie theater. Mushroom makes small, round popcorn and is used to make commercial caramel corn since it doesn't break easily.

snowflake and mushroom popcorn kernelsSnowflake and mushroom popcorn kernels

Most homegrown popcorn is the snowflake variety, which is actually the tenderer of the two types. Just make sure the seeds are fertile.

Another decision you need to make when growing popcorn at home is hybrid or natural, open-pollinated variety. Use the natural, open-pollinated if you want to save your seeds from one year to the next. If you aren't interested in saving your seeds, then either type will do. But many people feel that the natural, open-pollinated variety pops better.

colored popcorn kernelsVarious colored popcorn kernels

A fourth decision you need to make when growing popcorn at home is the type of colors. Possible colors include off-white, light gold, deep gold, deep maroon, and black. There are also varieties that have two or more colors on each ear. These are called “calico” varieties. Each of these colored varieties has a distinct taste and appearance when popped.

Where to Grow Your Popcorn When Growing Popcorn at Home

Find a location in your garden that has full sun, with rich, well-drained soil. You will need to work a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost into the soil. One suggestion is to soak the kernels for 12 hours before planning.

If you plant both sweet corn and popcorn in your garden when growing popcorn at home, be sure to keep them separated. Researchers have decided that a 150 foot buffer between different corn varieties is sufficient to prevent the majority of cross pollination.

Popcorn plants need water during the growing season, so keep access to water in mind when determining where to plant popcorn.

How to Plant Popcorn When Growing Popcorn at Home

planted popcorn seeds in home gardenPlant popcorn seeds 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches deep

The soil should be about 65 degrees before planting your popcorn. Plant the seeds 1 to 1 ½ inches deep and about 6 inches apart. It is better to plant the popcorn in four or five short rows about 36 inches apart rather than one or two long rows for pollination purposes. Corn is pollinated by wind, and this will help make sure you have well-filled ears. Water your seeds well after planting, and keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.

When the popcorn plants have sprouted and are about 3 to 4 inches tall, thin the plants leaving them 8 to 12 inches apart. (I know, thinning plants is hard to do, but necessary.)

popcorn growing in a home gardenPopcorn growing in a home garden

When growing popcorn at home, keep your popcorn plants weed-free because weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and moisture. So be sure to cultivate the soil around the plants regularly to eliminate weeds. Popcorn stalks have very shallow roots, so be careful not to damage the roots or pull the soil away from the plants when pulling weeds.

watering home grown popcornWatering home grown popcorn

Water, fertilize, and weed your popcorn stalks regularly. They need 1 ½ to 2 inches of water a week. If you don’t get that much rain, you will need to water by hand or an irrigation system. Water deficiency can stress your plants out and reduce the yield and quality of the popcorn.

When the stalks are about knee-high, pile about 6 inches of soil around the stalks. This will add nutrients and support to the growing plants.

Depending on the nutritional composition of your soil, you many need to fertilize lightly in midsummer before a rain (or water deeply) to give the plants an added boost.

How to Harvest Your Popcorn

hand-harvesting home grown popcornHand harvesting home grown popcorn

Allow the kernels to dry in the field as long as possible. When harvested, the kernels should be hard and the husks completely dry. If you can press your thumbnail into a kernel, it’s not ripe yet. But harvest all the ears before the first hard frost. To remove the ears, bend the ear down next to the stalk; twist to remove it.

How to Dry Your Popcorn

drying popcorndrying home grown popcorn

There are several methods for drying your popcorn. Here are four possible methods.

Method One:

1.   Peel back the husks and tie 3 or 4 ears tightly by the husks.

2.   Hang in a dark, cool place to dry completely (about 3 to 4 weeks).

3.   When corn is dry, hold the ear of popcorn over a large bag or bowl.

4.   Use your thumbs to push the dried kernels from the ear into the bag or bowl.

5.   Store the shelled corn in a glass jar with a lid.

Method Two:

1.   Remove the husks and place the ears in mesh bags.

2.   Hang the bags in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location.

3.   Once or twice a week, shell a few kernels and try popping them. (The ideal moisture content for popcorn is between 13 and 14%.)

4.   When the test kernels are popping well and tasting good, shell and store the rest of the kernels.

5.   If the popcorn is "chewy" or the popped kernels are jagged, it is too wet and needs to continue drying.

Method Three:

1.   Shuck the ears (see #3 in method one above)

2.   Let them dry for a few weeks.

3.   Then shell the kernels.

4.   Store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

5.   Now, just pop and enjoy! A whole quart of popcorn has less than 100 calories—so you can enjoy this snack. 

Method Four:

1.   Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.

2.   Remove the husks from the ears.

3.   Place the ears in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4.   Put them in the oven overnight, leaving the door ajar. (This step is important because it allows moisture to escape and prevents the corn from getting too hot.)

5.   Remove the baking sheets from the oven.

6.   Hang the ears in a cool dry place for 1-2 weeks.

7.   Try popping a few kernels to be sure they are dry.

8.   Store kernels in an air-tight jar.

9.   Store on the shelf or in the refrigerator.

How to Store Your Popcorn

Store your popcorn kernels in a sealed, airtight container, such as a glass jar with a lid.

And--The Most Important Part--Popping Your Home Grown Popcorn

To pop your home-grown popcorn:

·         heat a tbsp. of oil in a heavy pot on the stove,

·         add 1/4 cup of kernels,

·         put the lid on the pot and

·         move the pot back and forth across the stove burner until the popping ceases.

·         Serve hot with salt, butter and other flavorings if desired.

Or measure popcorn into a hot-air popper and pop.

However you decide to pop your popcorn, if the stored popcorn fails to pop, it may be too dry. Try this:

·         Add 1 tablespoon of water to a quart of popcorn.

·         Cover and shake at frequent intervals until the popcorn has absorbed the water.

·         After 3 or 4 days, test pop a few kernels to see if it is ready.

·         Add more water and repeat the process until the popcorn pops well.

 

Enjoy!

For more information about growing popcorn at home check out this link to Mother Earth News.

I hope this little blurb helps make growing popcorn at home not only doable but also fun.