How to Grow Popcorn (and the best way to pop it!)

how to grow popcorn

Growing Popcorn Corn

I love munching on a big bowl of popcorn in the evening. But it’s even better when the popcorn comes from my own garden! Growing your own popcorn allows you to experience a variety of colors: Dakota Black, Neon Pink, multi-colored Cherokee, or classic yellow Tom Thumb. As you might expect, the flavor of freshly grown popcorn is superior to anything you’d get from a store.

Soil and Growing Conditions

  • Popcorn should be planted just like other types of corn. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70 degrees and all danger of frost has passed, either in spring or very early summer.
  • Depending on the variety, it can take just 60 days or up to 120 days to mature, so if you live in an area with short summers choose a faster maturing variety such as Tom Thumb, and make sure you plant early enough to harvest before your first frost.
  • If you need to plant earlier than your season normally allows, warm up your soil in advance by using black plastic mulch, and protect your seedlings with floating row covers until the weather is mild enough for the corn to survive unprotected.
  • It is best to sow your popcorn seeds directly in the garden as corn does not transplant well.
  • Test your soil to see if any fertilization is required. Popcorn is a “heavy feeder” and needs plenty of nitrogen and other nutrients to thrive.
  • Spread an inch of compost over the bed and incorporate it with the soil.
  • Plant the seeds at 1 inch depth, spaced at every 8 inches both within and in between rows.
  • Water well, and a week or two later you should see sprouts popping up.

Tips to Growing Great Popcorn

  • Corn has very shallow roots and needs good loose soil without rocks or other debris in the way. Pull any weeds before you plant. Once the seeds are in the ground, don’t weed your garden until the corn is several inches tall because the sprouts look like grass and you might pull it along with the weeds!
  • Corn needs close contact with other corn in order to self-pollinate efficiently and produce good cobs, so it is best to dedicate an entire bed to your popcorn instead of intercropping them with other veggies. If you only want to plant a partial bed, do so in a block-arrangement, not in rows, for the best pollination.
  • Keep your corn patch watered and weed free throughout the growing season.
  • Fertilize mid-season with a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer such as Blood Meal.
  • When the corn stalks are knee high, mound up some extra dirt or compost around the base of each stalk to help stabilize them and to cover any exposed roots.

Harvesting Your Popcorn

  • Your popcorn will be ready to harvest when the husks have dried and the kernels are plump, well-colored and shiny.
  • Remove the husks and dry the cobs fully in a cool, well-ventilated place for at least a month.
  • Your kernels will not pop if they are too moist.
  • Test if they’re ready by shelling and attempting to pop several kernels; if they don’t pop or if the popped corn is chewy or jagged, try again after several more days of drying.
  • Remove the kernels from the cobs once they’re fully dry. A hand corn sheller makes this task easy.
  • Pick out any pieces of husk or silks from the stored corn kernels - these will burn if it is included when popping the corn.
  • Store the kernels in an air-tight container until you’re ready to pop them, preferably in the refrigerator to keep them as fresh and bug-free as possible. If stored well, they should retain their popping quality for several years.

Popping Your Popcorn

To pop your homegrown popcorn, you can use an air popper or pop them on the stovetop. The best method for stovetop popping has been thoroughly studied and perfected by America’s Test Kitchen. Here’s how they do it:
  • In a large saucepan, heat 3 Tablespoons of high smoke point oil, such as peanut or canola, on medium.
  • Add only three kernels and cover.
  • When the third kernel pops, it’s hot enough to add the rest of the popcorn.
  • Remove the pot from the stove, pour in 1/3 cup of kernels, and cover again. Wait 30 seconds and then return the pot to heat.
  • Once you hear them start to pop, shake the pot over the heat, and also crack the lid just a little so the steam can escape and not make them soggy - but not enough for a popped kernel to escape!
  • When the popping slows down to every 1 or 2 seconds, remove from heat and pour in a bowl.

Ideas on Toppings for Your Popcorn

Butter and salt is always a crowd pleaser, but why not try making your own gourmet toppings? Travel the world in your kitchen: make it Japanese-style with chili powder and crumbled dried seaweed, Hawaiian-style with butter and furikake (a Japanese seasoning) mixed with little rice crackers, or coat half with cheddar powder and half with caramel then toss them together for Chicago-style popcorn. Drizzle with caramel, dark and white chocolate to make zebra popcorn, or try out your favorite seasonings from the spice cabinet like cinnamon-sugar, sriracha, curry powder, wasabi, or nutritional yeast. And of course there are many delicious recipes online for other goodies you can make from popcorn too. Grow your own popcorn to enjoy all year, create your own signature flavor, and grow organic for life!
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How do you measure the % of moisture in a popcorn

Ronnie Bwanika

Gigi, thanks for the tip on popping.

Suzanne at

Alton Brown has an excellent tip about popping on the stove. Use a 6 quart stainless bowl, and cover with foil. Put 10 slots into the foil with a knife to allow steam to escape. Cook over medium heat using tongs or BBQ mitts, to gently shake to bowl constantly, with the oil, popcorn and 1/2 tsp popcorn salt, (very fine grained salt) . It will take about 3 mins for the batch to finish.
The curved bowl is the perfect shape to lift the popped kernels away from the oil and heat, while keeping the unpopped kernels close to the heat so more will pop. The slots in the foil help keep the popped corn from getting soggy from the steam trapped under a regular lid.
I have found this one of the most economical ways to make popcorn. Better than any of the poppers I’ve tried, actually.


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