Popcorn is a delicious and healthy snack perfect for just about any occasion. That’s just how good popcorn is. Want to double the fun? Try growing popcorn. Growing your own popcorn gives you supply for your daily snack needs. It takes effort, patience, and time but it is all worth it when the time to pop the corn comes.
Here, we will tell you how to grow your own popcorn. We guide you from beginning to end. First, we start by getting to know about popcorn and selecting seeds. Then, we proceed to how to plant, cultivate, and pollinate. Finally, we will tell you how to harvest and some useful tips you can try. Are you ready? Let’s start now.
- 1 Getting to Know about Popcorn
- 2 Selecting Seeds For Growing Popcorn
- 3 Growing Popcorn: Planting, Cultivation, and Pollination
- 4 Growing Popcorn: Protection against Pests and Animals
- 5 Growing Popcorn: Harvesting, Drying and Storing
- 6 Some Useful Tips for Growing Popcorn
- 7 Closing
Getting to Know about Popcorn
Not all corns pop. Only certain varieties do. Popcorn, or Zea mays everta, is a type of corn. Originally, corn was bred from teosinte in Mexico. Today, there are three types of corn: the field corn used to feed livestock, the sweet corn that we eat, and the Indian or flint corn, which we use for popcorn.
The kernels of flint corn come in various colors depending on their variant. However, when popped, they all turn white. Why? Because while the exterior color may be different, the inside of the kernels is the same. Flint corn has many varieties. We will tell you some of the most popular in the next section.
Wondering why popcorn pops? Here’s why. A kernel consists of two parts: the hard external shell and soft, moist starch. When a kernel is heated, the starch’s moisture turns into steam. As a result, the starch expands. When the starch becomes too large and can no longer be contained, the external shell breaks, and the starch is released.
There are two types of popcorn: “mushroom” and “snowflake”. Both of these names refer to the popcorn’s shape after it pops. Mushroom popcorn has a rounder, mushroom-like shape. Mushroom popcorn is commonly used to make caramel corn as they are more resilient than snowflake popcorn. Snowflake popcorn has a, well, snow-like shape. The popcorn looks as if it has arms.
Selecting Seeds For Growing Popcorn
Before growing popcorn, you need to decide what variant of popcorn you want to grow. Do you want to grow a natural variety or hybrid? Do you want to save seeds to plant annually? Do you want to grow fast-growing corns? Perhaps little ones that don’t eat up too much space? Each variety has its own characteristics.
If you don’t know where to start, here are four of the most popular popcorn varieties:
1. Japanese Hulless
If you are looking for kernels that pop tender popcorn, then this open-pollinated variety is your best option.
This open-pollinated variety has red kernels and small ears.
3. Tom Thumb
Also open-pollinated, this variant is quite small, so it is a perfect option if you have little space for growing popcorn. Compared to other varieties, it has a fast growth rate.
4. White Cloud
Not an open-pollinated variant. This hybrid variant produces fewer ears. However, this variant is considered to pop better than its open-pollinated counterparts.
If you want to save seeds for later use, consider natural, open-pollinated variants. If saving seeds is not a concern, consider the characteristics of the variants. Whichever variant you choose, planting, cultivating, and harvesting for growing popcorn is mostly the same. With proper care, favorable conditions, and patience, you can expect a good result regardless of the variant you select.
Growing Popcorn: Planting, Cultivation, and Pollination
Once you have decided the variant to plant, now it is time for growing popcorn. So, how do you do it? How do you plant, cultivate, and pollinate popcorn? To answer each question, we divide this section into three parts: planting, cultivation, and pollination. Let’s start with planting popcorn first.
- First and foremost, don’t plant the seeds before the last frost has passed. Young corn shoots are vulnerable to frost damage, so it is best to wait until the frost has passed. Warm soil is best for growing popcorn. Ideally, the soil should be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Corn loves nitrogen. When planting seeds, a round of fertilizer with high nitrogen content will be beneficial for the plants.
- If you plant in spring, plant the seeds a half-inch deep. If you plant in summer, plant the seeds 2 inches deep. The seeds should germinate between 3 and 12 days. Plant rows about 12 inches apart. Good ear development requires good pollination. As such, it is a good idea to put in 4 or more adjacent rows.
- Usually, only three-quarters of the planted seeds germinate so put two seeds in each hole with 7 inches space in-between the holes. You can thin out the sprouts later on so they are 15 inches apart.
- Don’t have enough room for several rows? Plant the seeds in hills instead. Plant six seeds per hill. As with rows, you can thin out the sprouts later. For hills, thin out to three once the seeds sprout.
- When thinning growing popcorn, cut the plants and don’t pull it. Pulling a plant may damage adjoining plants so avoid doing so.
- If you are planning to save seeds for later use, isolate the popcorn from other corn, including other popcorn varieties. This is to avoid cross-pollination, which results in less tasty corns and fewer yields. Planting the corns at least 100 feet apart should do the trick.
- Earlier we mentioned that corn is a heavy feeder. That is the reason why you need to either mulch heavily around the plant or remove any weeds. After all, corn doesn’t grow well if it has to compete with weeds for nutrition. When removing weeds, do it carefully so as not to damage the corn’s roots.
- When it comes to watering for growing popcorn, corn needs approximately 1 inch of water per week. If rainfall doesn’t provide enough amount, flood the ground with water and water at the roots. Don’t sprinkle water overhead as it may wash away the pollen.
- When the sprouts are 6 inches tall, apply nitrogen fertilizer or compost. Do it again when the plants are as tall as your knee.
- It takes about 90 to 120 days for corn to mature. As for the height and ears, how tall the corns and how many ears they produce depend on the variant.
- Pollination is also an important part of growing popcorn. For a full set of kernels to develop, pollination has to be completed. In each corn plant, there are male and female flowers. The male flowers are the tassels (yes, the one that you see at the top of the stalks) while the female flowers are the silk on the ears.
- The silk must be pollinated by the tassels. Otherwise, kernels won’t develop. Each one of the pollinated silk strands represents one kernel.
- How can you help your growing popcorn pollinate? After the tassels are open, displaying the yellow pollen content, shake the stalks calmly. This should release the pollen and pollinate the silks.
- If shaking the tassels is not precise enough for you, you can shake the pollen from the tassels and collect them in a bucket. Then, put these pollens in a smaller bag that you can carry around easily. Sprinkle a bit of the pollens onto each silky ear. Do this on three different days to make sure complete pollination.
Growing Popcorn: Protection against Pests and Animals
When you are growing popcorn, you need to protect from pests and diseases. Two of the most common pests for corn are earworms and borers. These pests two have different ways to damage a corn plant. Earworms attack the tips of the ear when the corn stalks start to tassel, while borers attack the stalks, creating small holes.
How do you protect your corns from these two pests?
- For earworms, sprinkle the affected tip with rotenone or pyrethrin before the affected silks wither and start to turn brown. When the silks are turning brown, take a drop of mineral oil and apply it to the top of the affected ear.
- For borers, you can either destroy the affected stalk by squeezing it or apply biological pesticides rotenone to the stalk.
There are also animals that love to eat popcorn. Namely, raccoons and crows. Raccoons eat the ears as they are starting to ripen, while crows eat the young sprouts. Of course, you need to deal with them if you want the best yields from your growing popcorn. Here’s how to deal with each animal:
- To deal with raccoons, you will need an electric fence. Such a fence will keep them out. You can also sprinkle a bit of hot pepper on the silk to slow them down. For a more natural approach, you can imitate the Native Americans who plant pumpkins among corn plants to discourage raccoons.
- To deal with crows, mulch the corn patch. A scarecrow can help as well.
Growing Popcorn: Harvesting, Drying and Storing
- You have selected the corn seeds for growing popcorn. You have plant, cultivate, and pollinate the corns carefully. Now it is time for your reward: harvest. Light frost damage immature ears but don’t affect mature ears that much. A hard frost, on the other hand, does affect the popping rate of the kernels.
- To keep the kernels good, harvest the mature ears, then husk and dry them. You can dry the ears by hanging them on a mesh bag in a well-ventilated space. Alternatively, you can spread the ears on a clean surface and let dry. Choose whichever method suits you. The most important thing is to dry them.
- Next, drying. How do you know when the popcorn has dried enough? The answer is when the moisture is between 13% and 14%. Of course, you can’t test the moisture level on the kitchen counter. Another way you can know whether the popcorn has dried enough is by scraping some kernels and heat them using a hot-air popper or microwave.
- If the pop is light and crunchy, that means the kernels have dried enough. If the kernels popping partially, or if they are hard to chew after being heated, that means there is still too much moisture in them. Wait for a few more days to let them dry out and test again.
- To store dried kernels, put them inside an airtight container. An airtight container will keep the moisture of the kernels, preventing further dry out. This is not only practical but also comes in handy too. Want to enjoy some snacks? Open the container and pop your homegrown corn yourself! It is the perfect reward for growing popcorn on your own.
Some Useful Tips for Growing Popcorn
- When you are growing popcorn, keep in mind that corn has shallow roots. As such, the best soil is loose soil that has no rock or debris in it. If there are weeds on the spot where you want to plant corn, remove them beforehand.
- After you sow the seeds on the ground, wait until the corn reaches several inches tall before weeding. Why? Because corn is actually a grass and it can be difficult to differentiate between corn sprouts and weeds.
- If you want your corn to self-pollinate efficiently, keep your corn plants close to each other. If possible, designate an area for corn plants only. In case you want to plant a partial bed of corn instead of a designated area for corn plants, create a block-arrangement for best pollination.
- Make sure that the plant is watered throughout the growing season. Also, remove any weeds so the corn doesn’t have to compete for nutrition.
- When the stalks reached knee height, compost around the stalks base or add some extra dirt on it. This is done to cover any exposed roots and help the stalks to stabilize.
- For best growth, fertilize the plants with a nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer in the mid-season.
In short, pick the right seed, plant, cultivate, and pollinate the plants accordingly, and finally, harvest. What do you think? Not that difficult, right? If you grow your popcorn properly, it will not be long before you enjoy a delicious and healthy snack. And the fact that you are growing popcorn on your own makes it even more delicious. Happy gardening!