How to Grow: Popcorn

Learn how to grow popcorn and dry it so it pops.

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Popcorn is not just that buttery, salty snack you buy at movie theaters. It’s actually an ancient and nutritious grain. The oldest known popcorn dates back 5600 years and was found in caves in New Mexico. Some actually still popped when cooked.

Popcorn is native to the Americas. The traditional way to eat popcorn is by cooking it on the cob over an open fire. The popped kernels are nibbled off the ear. Native Americans even made popcorn beer and popcorn soup. Today, we’re the larger growers and consumers of popcorn, eating about 70 quarts of popcorn each in one year.

Like corn, popcorn needs full sun, water, fertile soil and enough plants for proper pollination. Look for varieties such as ‘Robust’, ‘White Cloud’ and ‘Strawberry’. The kernels may be different colors, but they all pop to white. However, some will pop into different shapes, such as butterflies or mushrooms, depending on the variety.

Harvest once the husks turn brown and the kernels are hard and brightly colored. Hang the husked ears in a warm, well-ventilated location to dry. Check periodically to see if they’re dry enough by doing test pops. The key is getting the kernel moisture to about 14% moisture. When exposed to hot temperatures, the moisture turns to steam and the kernel pops. If it’s too dry or wet, it won’t pop properly. You can also place cleaned kernels in the oven and slowly dry them at 200 degree temperature overnight with the oven door left ajar. Once at the “popable” stage, store popcorn kernels in glass jars in a cool, dark location.

From the Connecticut Garden Journal