If you are looking for something a little more unique in your vegetable garden this year – the answer just might be growing popcorn.

growing popcorn
Strawberry popcorn is not only delicious – but attractive.

Popcorn is not only simple to grow – it’s also one of the easiest crops to harvest, store and enjoy throughout the year. Never mind worrying about pressure canning, freezing or a water bath to process – all that is needed with popcorn is to dry it, shell it and store it!  It makes the perfect crop for those who want to begin to grow and preserve some of their own food.

It also make a perfect home made gift for friends and family around the holidays!

The Benefits Of Growing Popcorn

Growing Popcorn makes for healthy snacks!
Growing Popcorn – the perfect healthy snack

Not only is popcorn a tasty snack – its healthy!  A cup of plain popcorn contains as few as 30 calories. It’s also a whole grain, an excellent source of fiber – and contains valuable antioxidants. Best of all – once you taste “real” popcorn – you won’t ever miss those unhealthy, processed microwave bags of fake butter and salt again!

It’s simple to make as well – we pop ours on a stove top wok using a 1/2 cup of popcorn and a few tablespoons of olive oil. It takes only a few minutes to make the ultimate healthy snack.

Types To Grow:

We grow only heirloom varieties.  Beyond the great taste – the beauty of heirlooms are you can save back a handful of your best kernels to use for seed the following season.  What more can you ask for than a never-ending supply of free seed and popcorn!

There is almost an endless variety to choose from – ranging in colors from the traditional yellow – to  red, blue, black and more. Here are three of our favorites:

The bright red kernels of strawberry popcorn
The bright red kernels of strawberry popcorn

Strawberry Popcorn : Each stalk will have multiple 3 to 5″ cobs with bright strawberry-red kernels. The stalks of Strawberry popcorn are on the smaller size as well – growing anywhere from 3 to 5′ tall at full maturity. That size works well for tucking into some extra space in the garden or landscape.

We grow ours among stands of ornamental grasses – they blend in well and add a little extra color and texture to the bed space.

Ladyfinger :  This is the more traditional variety that most people are familiar with. Ladyfinger cobs are around 6″ long with bright yellow kernels – although it’s not out of the questions to find a few other colors of kernels mixed into the cob now and then.  It’s by far our favorite for taste – with smaller hulls and a super light flavor.

The dark kernels of Dakota popcorn
The dark kernels of Dakota popcorn

Dakota Black : This is another old-time heirloom variety that performs well in a wide range of climates. The kernels are dark reddish-black – and most importantly – have a high popping rate.

As an added benefit – all three of the varieties listed above double as ornamental corn and make excellent fall decorations – a true dual purpose garden planting!  Once they have served their decorative purpose – you can shell them and enjoy.

Planting / Drying / Storing = Growing Popcorn

Popcorn stalks growing in mid summer
Popcorn stalks growing in mid summer

Start by sowing seed in mid to late spring, allowing the stalks and subsequent ears that develop to become plump and mature.  We leave our ears on until mid September, or until the stalks and leaves begin to fade and turn brown in late summer / early fall.  You can leave them on longer to dry naturally – but they become more attractive to deer and raccoons as other plants begin to die off.

After picking – we let our ears continue to dry out for three to four more weeks by hanging up in the barn – or placing on an old screen to cure.  As soon as the kernels become dry and hard – they will fall of the cob with a little push of your fingers. At this point – they are ready to pop or store. Although you can purchase quite a few gadgets designed to shell the corn – we found once they are dry enough – they rub off quite easily with just a pair of gloves on.

Some of our strawberry popcorn on the counter waiting to be popped.
Some of our strawberry popcorn on the counter waiting to be popped.

To store – simply fill clean jars with the kernels and seal with an airtight lid. Popcorn that is stored properly will keep for well over a year without losing any of its vigor.

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Happy Gardening and Corn Popping – Jim and Mary!

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