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How to Grow Your Own Popcorn

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Growing your own popcorn is almost as much fun as eating it. Simply follow our tips below.

Planting and Harvesting

  • Plant seed popcorn in four or five short rows about 36 inches apart to ensure pollination. Plant corn seeds one inch deep and six inches apart.
  • When the plants are five inches tall, thin them to 12 inches apart.
  • Fertilize lightly in midsummer just before a rain to give them an added boost.
  • When the stalks are about knee-high, hill them up six inches by scraping soil from between the rows. Hilling adds nutrients and support to the growing plants.
  • Let the husks that cover the ears turn brown before harvesting. If you can press your thumbnail into a kernel, it’s not ripe yet.
  • Harvest all ears before the first hard frost. Shuck the ears and let them dry for a few weeks, then shell the kernels and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Now, just pop and enjoy! A whole quart of popcorn has less than 100 calories, so even waist watchers can afford a dribble of melted butter.

The Science of Popping Corn

What causes these tiny grains to pop and expand to 30 or 40 times its original size?

  • Popcorn kernels have a hard outer shell that surrounds a large amount of starch with a moist central germ.
  • When the kernel is heated, the moisture turns to steam, which softens the starch, causing it to expand and press against the inside of the shell.
  • When the pressure is great enough, BOOM!—the kernel explodes and literally turns inside out.

Popcorn’s Place in History

Historians doubt that turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner, but they know that popcorn was there. Quandequina, the brother of Chief Massasoit, brought a deerskin sack filled with popcorn to the feast. Popcorn, already a staple for Native Americans, became an important food for the colonists. It stored well and could be popped fresh all winter long to serve with meat, float on soups, and mix with maple syrup for popcorn balls.


About The Author

George and Becky Lohmiller

George and Becky Lohmiller shared their gardening knowledge and enthusiasm with Almanac readers for more than 15 years, writing Farmer’s Calendar essays and gardening articles in previous editions of The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Read More from George and Becky Lohmiller

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