Popcorn (Zea mays everta) is an actual variety of corn that goes by the same common name as the buttery snack many families enjoy on movie night. Instead of popping all the seeds in the bag, save some for planting. Like sweet corn (Zea mays var. saccharata), popcorn grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. And, according to "Mother Earth News," home-grown popcorn is fresher and tastes a whole lot better. It stores easily, and you needn't worry about whether it was sprayed with pesticides. Pop it in an air-popper or in a covered pan on the stove, and enjoy.
1 Work the soil until fine with a garden fork or tiller in a sunny place with good drainage. Soil pH should be 6.0. The location should not be closer to sweet corn than 500 feet to avoid cross-pollination between it and the popcorn.
2 Soak popcorn in water for 12 hours and drain. Plant the seeds after all danger of frost has passed but as early as you can to give the popcorn as much growing season as possible. Place the seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart in a patch of multiple rows that are 3 feet apart. Patch planting helps enable wind pollination among the plants. By the same token, do not plant only one popcorn seed. There must be at least two to pollinate each other.
3 Weed the popcorn patch as necessary throughout the growing season to keep your popcorn weed-free.
4 Pile soil up around the base of the stalks when they get about 2 feet high because the roots will be exposed at the base.
5 Fertilize the popcorn with a 12-12-12 fertilizer when you plant the seeds. Fertilize again when the stalks are about 2 feet high and once more when tassels appear on top of the stalk. Follow the directions on the fertilizer package.
6 Water the popcorn patch thoroughly and regularly to keep the ground moist but not wet, especially when the silks appear at the end of the new ears of popcorn until the kernels develop.
7 Let the popcorn dry on the stalk for two months after the stalks have turned brown and the husks covering the popcorn kernels have become hard at the end of the growing season. This may be 85 to 120 days after planting, depending on the variety. Test if the ears are ready for harvest by popping a few kernels to see if they pop correctly. If humidity is above 25 percent or if there is much rain, prevent molding by harvesting the ears and removing the husks as soon as the stalks turn brown. Dry the corn on the cob in the sun on bright days, bringing it inside each night. Alternatively, store the husked ears in a warm, dry place with good ventilation. Mix up the ears often to dry them evenly.
8 Shell the popcorn by twisting the ears in your hands, moving each hand in opposite directions. This can be tiring and painful, so if you have a lot of ears to shell, invest in a corn sheller machine from your local farm supply store.
9 Place the loose kernels in a large roasting pan. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and place the pan in the oven. Turn the oven down to the lowest setting, and dry the kernels for five hours, stirring frequently. Turn off the oven and let the popcorn cool inside the oven.
10 Pour the dried kernels slowly from one bucket to another in front of a fan or in the wind outside to blow away any chaff, cob residue or leftover silks. Store the cleaned kernels in an airtight container in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
Items you will need
- Garden fork or tiller
- Roasting pan
- Popcorn producers sometimes use high heat to kill insect eggs in the seeds. Some popcorn in the grocery store may be too old to grow. To find fertile popcorn seeds without planting a whole patch, soak and sow only about 20 seeds in the ground at first. Fertile seeds will sprout and exhibit robust growth within a week. Seeds that show stunted or no growth in two weeks, your seeds are not fertile enough. Try another brand.
- Many varieties of popcorn are available, including white, gold, maroon, black and mixed-color “calico” popcorn.
- Save some popcorn seeds for next year’s crop before drying your kernels in the oven.
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