First and most importantly if you are growing your own popcorn you (and your neighbors) can’t grow sweet corn! There needs to be at least 100 feet separation between popcorn and any other type of corn. If not, the two types of corn will cross pollinate and ruin both crops. So if you live in a traditional neighborhood then you and all your surrounding neighbors can’t be growing any other corn. If you are blessed to live on a large lot then be sure to have that 100 foot separation between the two types of corn.
Most popcorn matures in around 105 days. You should plan on at least 3 ½ months from start to finish. So be sure to get the corn in the ground right around (or even a little before) your last frost date so that the ears have plenty of time for growing your own popcorn.
Lots of water
Popcorn likes lots of water! Be sure to plant your popcorn in an area where you can get it a lot of water. Make sure to plant in areas where it’s easy to get lots of water and the corn has thrived with 2 or 3 ears per stalk.
Corn is a heavy feeder. That means they use up a lot of the nitrogen in the soil. So if you fertilize be sure to give the corn some. If you are more organic then be sure to plant the corn in a rich spot of soil and then follow the corn the following year with something like peas or beans that will help replace the nitrogen lost to the corn.
The Hill Method
Don’t worry about planting a big patch with long rows. Instead plant your popcorn in small hills that have 5 to 7 plants each. These hills don’t need to be much more that 18 inches round and can be tucked in any empty space in your garden. The 5 to 7 plants, planted close together will pollinate each other and you don’t have to worry about the giant patch of corn taking up space.
Popcorn is ready to pick when the stalks and ears are completely dry. Once you pick the corn the ears will need to cure for 3 to 4 weeks. Curing popcorn makes awesome fall decorations. So when you shuck the corn carefully pull some of the husk back and leave it attached for a great decoration.
You can try to remove the husk and then let the corn sit outside in the sun for a week or so (just be sure it doesn’t get rain or frost on it). Then bring it inside and either hang it in the garage for a few more weeks.
Shelling your popcorn
The ears are ready for shelling when the kernels come off with a fairly aggressive twisting of the ear. Depending on how you look at it shelling is either the most fun part of popcorn or the worst. If you have a ton to do you should make a family project out of it. And be sure to wear gloves if you are doing more than just a couple ears. Popcorn is a little rough on your hands.
Tip: You can pop the corn right on the cob if you would like. Simply put the cob in a paper bag and put it in the microwave.
Storing your popcorn
Once you shell the corn, store it in sealed glass jars in a cool dark spot. If your corn isn’t popping it may need a little more curing time, so let is sit for a couple of weeks in the jar and then try again!