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How To Grow Popcorn

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Thinking about growing popcorn in your garden this year? Here’s how to grow popcorn right in your own backyard!

Thinking about growing popcorn in your garden this year? Here's how to grow popcorn right in your own backyard!

I remember the first time I grew popcorn. 

My dad had this field he was growing sorghum cane in, and it had a funny shaped end on one side that was hard to get the cultivator in, plus didn’t get a lot of sun, so he decided not to plant all the way to that end. 

So naturally, being the overenthusiastic teenager I was, I piped up and said “Oh good! I’m going to grow popcorn there!”

It was a long time ago, and I don’t remember why I wanted to grow popcorn, only that I did. 

I do remember that we ate a lot of popcorn back then – probably more than the average family.  I remember that my mom would pop a five gallon bucket full when we were kids (Believe it or not, popped corn does stay nice and crispy in a tightly lidded five gallon bucket), and we were allowed to dig and for a snack whenever we were hungry.

We spent a lot of those “snack breaks” on the old couch out on the front porch, eating popcorn, and reading a book. Living in a non-electric Amish community, that was as close as we got to popcorn and a move. 

This year, I’m growing popcorn again, but this time instead of it being attached to a larger field, it’s just a few rows in my backyard garden, and those few rows will probably last us the entire year. 

Growing popcorn in your backyard is really easy because all you have to do is plant, and then keep it watered and keep the weeds down until it’s mature. There’s no trellising, training or staking as you need to do with growing your own strawberries. No debate over whether to unearth the bulbs as there is with homegrown onions

It’s simple and straightforward. 

So, want the details? Here’s how to grow popcorn right in your backyard. 

Start by choosing your space

young popcorn plants growing in full sun.

You want well-drained soil in full sun. 

Corn is a what’s known as a “heavy feeder” so you’ll want to make sure your soil is high in nitrogen, or have amendments such as compost on hand to help feed your corn. 

Choose your popcorn variety

There are quite a few tempting varieties of popcorn seeds from unique reds ears that result in small, tender popcorn kernels, to multi-colored “indian corn” varieties which look impressive in the jar but have a lower pop-rate, to your basic yellow or white popcorns. 

This year, I’m growing a variety from Johnny’s Seeds called Robust. It’s a basic hearty yellow variety, because I didn’t want to take any chances with yield in my small garden space. 

In short, just choose the seeds that look like the best fit for your garden, and make your heart happy. 

One thing of note: I see a lot of marketing using buzz words like “non GMO seeds” but the reality is there are no GMO seeds for home gardeners, so don’t pay extra for clever marketing, and when it comes to popcorn, even the kernels on the biggest supermarket shelf aren’t GMO because there is no GMO popcorn. Popcorn crops just aren’t big enough for big companies like Monsanto to pursue.

how to grow your own popcorn

How to plant Popcorn

This is the fun part. 

After you till and work your soil, you’re ready to plant. 

In general, you will want to plant a minimum of four rows of popcorn (or any corn variety) to ensure good pollination – this is especially important if you plan to save seed for next year. But if there’s no way to fit 4+ rows, just do as many as you can. I personally have 3 1/2 rows this year, because the shape of my garden didn’t allow for a full fourth row. 

  1. Mark your rows by driving a stake into the ground or setting up a cinder block on each end. 
  2. String a piece of twine tightly between steaks to mark your row.
  3. Using the corner of a hoe, dig a 1-inch deep trench under the string in a straight line. 
  4. Drop 1-2 popcorn seeds every 6-8 inches along the trench
  5. Using your feet (so you don’t have to bend over and cause a backache), shuffle along the trench to cover your corn seeds. 
  6. Move your steak/cinder block row marker over about 24 inches, and repeat the process for 3+  more rows
  7. Water in. 

How To Grow Your Own Popcorn

Corn tends to have very shallow roots, so you’ll want to let it get several inches tall before you start pulling any weeds that come up next to them. 

After they get up several inches, pulling them up along with nearby weeds is less of a risk, so have at it! 

You’ll also want to keep your corn well watered in dry weather because they’re not very likely to send roots down to more moist soil.  (Cease watering when stalks begin to die)

When your corn stalks are knee high, pull some extra dirt, or add compost around the base of each stalk to help stabilize them and cover any exposed roots. This is especially important if you live in an area that is prone to hard summer storms, as fallen corn stalks can result in rotten ears. 

grow your own popcorn

Harvesting your Homegrown popcorn

Popcorn is ready to harvest when the husks have dried, and kernels are hard and shiny. 

Remove the husks and dry the cobs fully in a cool, well-ventilated place for at least a month. We used to spread them out on the attic floor where it was hot, dry, and breezy, but where we live now, it’s a little trickier to keep from attracting mice, so we hang them from the barn rafters in pantyhose – yes, pantyhose. 

Remove the kernels from the cobs once they’re fully dry by creating friction, kind of like you would trying to give your cousin an “Indian rub burn” on his wrist (what?). You may need to get it started by rubbing a few kernels off at the base of the cob. Popcorn kernels tend to be round, glossy, and a little harder to get a good grip on than say, field corn, so it may take some practice to get the hand of shelling it. 

Check back later this summer for video how-to guides for this whole process! 

If you’re growing popcorn this year, I would love to know what variety you chose. 

Leave a comment to let me know! 

Did I miss anything? Let me know your questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!

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