Growing vegetables at home has become very popular in recent years. People want to know that their food is safe to eat, and they like to know where it came from. Many want to eat only organic food, and the only way they can be sure that what they're eating is truly organic is to grow it themselves.
There's nothing quite as wonderful and appealing as homegrown vegetables at the dinner table. But what about at snack time? When you're craving a crunchy snack, wouldn't it be great to have something that satisfies your craving and is good for you, too? If your answer is "yes", then you might want to consider adding popcorn to your garden plan this year.
Popcorn is fun to grow at home. You can dry the kernels and then use them all year round for tasty healthy snacks. Popcorn balls, caramel corn, or just a big bowl of fluffy white popcorn drizzled with butter are treats that everyone enjoys. As a bonus, if you are one of those people who grinds your own wheat for bread, you can use your grain mill to turn your homegrown popcorn into delicious cornmeal.
Now that you're convinced that growing your own popcorn is something you want to try, here's what you need to know about growing, harvesting, and storing your popcorn.
First you'll need to decide what kind of popcorn seed to get. The two most common types of popcorn are "mushroom" and "snowflake". Mushroom kernels tend to be small and round when popped, like you find in store-bought caramel corn. Snowflake kernels make the big fluffy popcorn that we're used to seeing most often. You can also choose between hybrid and natural, or open-pollinated, seeds. Hybrid plants don't produce as many ears of corn, but the kernels tend to pop better. Also, hybrid plants are usually more resistant to pests and disease. Some people say that the open-pollinated popcorn has more flavor even though it pops up smaller. If you want to save some seed for planting, you will want to choose an open-pollinated variety.
You can probably find popcorn seed at your local farm supply or garden center. If not, you can easily find a number of suppliers online by searching for "popcorn seeds for sale" in your favorite search engine. Try to buy your seed in late winter or early spring so that you'll be ready when planting season comes.
Plant the popcorn seeds after the last frost in the spring. Find a sunny location where the plants will be protected from the wind. If you're planning to save the seed for next year, don't plant it near other varieties of corn. If you do, they might cross-pollinate and you will probably not get the popcorn you were expecting. The popcorn should be planted in small holes about 1 inch deep in rows about 12 inches apart. Plant at least 4 rows to make sure that pollination takes place. It's a good idea to plant two seeds in each hole because not all of the seeds will germinate. You can gently remove any extra plants when they're about 4 inches tall.
About 3-12 days after planting, you should start to see little green popcorn plants coming up. Once they're about 6 inches high, apply some nitrogen rich fertilizer or compost. Do this again when they're knee high. Popcorn roots don't like to be crowded, so be sure to keep weeds hoed back from your popcorn plants. If you don't want to have to hoe, apply a thick layer of mulch to keep the weeds away. Popcorn needs at least 1 inch of rain per week. If you need to water, do it at root level. Don't use an overhead sprinkler to water your plants or you might wash away the pollen.
As the stalks grow taller, be on the lookout for insect pests. Corn borers and earworms are popcorn's most common enemies. You can tell that you have corn borers if you see a sawdust-like substance coming out of little holes on the stalk. You can kill the borers by squeezing the stalk. Corn earworms show up at the tip of the ears around the time that the silk appears. Applying mineral oil to the ear tips may help to get rid of earworms. There are also biological pesticides that you can apply to the plants to help prevent or eliminate these pests.
With the fall comes harvest time. Leave your popcorn on the stalks until just before the first hard frost. You can pick the ears when the husks have turned brown. It's best to let the kernels dry outside, but if the weather is too damp you can bring them inside to finish drying. One easy way to do this is to put the ears in mesh bags and hang them in a warm dry place.
Once the kernels are completely dry, it's time to shell them. It is possible to shell the popcorn by hand, but it can be a slow and painful process. If you want to shell your popcorn without hurting your hands, you can use a tool made just for the job. You can buy a handheld corn sheller for under $15 or a hand operated mechanical corn sheller for less than $100.
Keep your popcorn fresh and make it last until next harvest by storing it properly. Put the kernels in airtight jars or plastic storage bags and keep them in a cool place. Do not store them in the refrigerator! Moisture inside the popcorn kernel is what makes it pop. Refrigerator air will cause the kernels to dry out and they won't pop as well.
Now it's time to enjoy your homegrown popcorn. Some people like to pop their corn in a kettle on top of the stove. Others prefer a hot air popper or other kinds of electric poppers. You can even pop it in an old-fashioned popcorn popper over the fire. However you choose to pop it, you will savor every delectable bite. And you will reap the satisfying feeling of knowing that you grew it yourself.