Growing popcorn in home gardens

By Bob Eister

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

It is a fond memory of mine. A cold winter night where the family is snuggled in to watch a movie with a favorite treat – a big bowl of popcorn.

Did you know you can grow your own popcorn? There are two different types. Pearl popcorn forms round smooth kernels, and rice popcorn has elongated kernels. You can grow red, pink, blue, yellow and multicolored ears. I planted the Japanese white hulless cultivar. The plants grow as stalks about 3 feet tall with two ears each.

Plant popcorn when frost is past in sunny areas of well-worked soil. Drop two seeds in a hole 1-inch deep, with 8 inches between holes. Grow plants in at least four rows about 18 inches apart, just like sweet corn, but not in the same area as sweet corn. This is because they are both wind pollinated. Water the area about 2 inches per week.

Popcorn will grow fast and when the plants are 6 inches high, side dress with 1/2 pound of fertilizer per 100 feet of row. Water well after fertilizing and keep the rows clear of weeds.

Popcorn usually grows in about 100 days. Allow the kernels to stay in the fields as long as possible to dry. The stalks and husks should get brittle and dry. Harvest when kernels are hard. Then take the ears out of the husk and store them inside to continue to dry for several more weeks.

Shell off a few shiny hard kernels from your cobs of popcorn and put these kernels in the microwave to see if they pop as usual. If it pops good, the popcorn should taste good, too. The popcorn may fail to pop; if so, it could be too dry with not enough moisture trapped inside the kernel. Take the amount of kernels you wish to pop or whole cob and put it a quart container with a teaspoon of water for a few days. Then try to pop it as before, repeat the process as needed until it pops normally.

You can pop your corn in the microwave using this simple recipe. Place 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a bowl. Roll your ear of popcorn or 1/4 cup of unpopped popcorn kernels in the oil and then place your ear or popcorn kernels in a plain brown paper lunch sack bag. Sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon of salt and fold the bag over twice to seal in the ingredients. Cook on your microwave’s popcorn setting or at full power for 2-2 Ω minutes. Stop cooking when you hear about two seconds between pops. Do not keep popcorn in the microwave longer than needed. Use caution – popcorn is hot. Use gloves or mitts to open the bag to avoid steam, and pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle on your favorite seasonings. Enjoy.

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