How to Grow Your Own Popcorn
Corn has been grown for thousands of years and the idea of popping corn has been around for just as long. It was the Native Americans who introduced the European colonists to this treat.
Choose the right corn
Corn is a type of grass. It comes in several varieties. Make sure when you purchase your seed that you purchase corn that is specifically for popcorn. The sweet corn that you enjoy each summer is a different variety and doesn't "pop" as well as "Indian corn" which has less sugar and water content. The most popular popcorn varieties are Strawberry with deep red kernels, Lady Finger and Tom Thumb, a miniature corn. No matter what color the corn kernels are, they will always pop white because the inside of the kernels is always white regardless of the exterior color.
If you plan to save seed for next year, plant your popcorn in a separate garden or at least 500 feet from your sweet corn to avoid cross-pollination. Sweet corn will not yield as well nor taste as good when cross-pollinated with a popcorn variety. You can also prevent cross-pollination by bagging and hand pollinating your popcorn or by staggering your planting times so that the tassels which carry the pollen mature at different times.
Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder so if you are practicing crop rotation, plant your corn in an area that was previously planted with legumes such as peas and beans which are nitrogen fixing. A good alternative is planting a cover crop in the prior fall.
Wait until after all danger of frost has passed before planting your seeds. If you are planting in rows, make them short and relatively close together. 12 inches apart is ideal but no more than 36 inches to ensure the best pollination. You will need a minimum of 4 rows. More is better. Plant 2 to 3 seeds per hole, 1inch deep. If all of the seeds germinate, thin them to 12 inches apart when the plants reach 15inches tall.
If you do not have space for that many rows, you can plant in hills. Each hill should have 6 seeds which can be thinned to three when they germinate. Thin by cutting your plants, not pulling them which can damage the roots of the plants that you are leaving in the ground.
Corn needs a minimum of 1 inch of water per week. If the rain is not sufficient and you must supplement watering, water at the roots rather than from overhead using a sprinkler which can wash the pollen off the tassels.
You can add compost or fertilizer when your plants are 6 inches tall and then again when they have reached the height of your knee. Corn does not compete well with weeds, so you will need to weed frequently.
Corn has both male and female flowers. The male flowers are the tassels at the top of the stalk. The female flowers are the silk on the ears. The silk must be completely pollinated by the tassels to produce the kernels on each ear. Incomplete pollination will result in incomplete ears.
You can help the process by hand pollinating or if you want a method requiring less effort on your part, you can just walk along the rows and shake the tassels which will release the pollen to fall on the silk in the ears.
Most corn is ready to be harvested when the silk turns brown on the ears. In the case of popcorn, you want to leave the ears on the stalks as long as possible to dry them out. If possible, leave the ears on the stalks until right before your first heavy frost. The husks should be brown before you harvest.
If you are unable to leave the ears on the stalks until the husks turn brown or the weather is unusually wet, harvest your ears and bring them indoors. Turn the husks back to expose the kernels and hang them in cool, dry place until they have finished drying. The kernels are dry when you are unable to press your fingernail into them. Or you can test by trying to pop a few kernels.
When the kernels are dry, remove them from the cob by either twisting the cob until the kernels pop off or by running your thumbs down the cob causing the kernels to pop off. Keep only full sized kernels. Throw away any tiny or immature kernels. Store the dried kernels in an airtight container away from light. Properly stored, popcorn will keep for several years. If you have old popcorn that is not popping, it may be too dry. Add a little water to the container and shake periodically until the corn has absorbed it. Then try popping it again.
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© 2014 Caren White