How would you like to serve red, white, and blue popcorn at your next party? You can grow varieties of heritage popcorn that are red and even blue as well as the more familiar white. These varieties are not hard to grow, but do take some planning because they are harder to find than the more mundane colors.
Corn grows best when grown in blocks, rather than one or two scraggily rows. This is because corn is wind pollinated, so enough of it has to be close for the pollen to waft over from their neighbors. This characteristic also means that if you want your heritage breeds to breed true, they have to be isolated from other types of corn. Sometimes that means grown a ways from other plants, but sometimes you can accomplish the same thing by planting verities that bloom at different times so they do not cross pollinate.
The ideal kind of corn for popping is flint corn. These corn types have hard kernels that can take the pressure of the steam for the maximum amount of time before they explode. Pick a color that appeals to you.
Plant your corn an inch to four inches deep. If your summers are dry, deeper plantings are better. Corn should be sown after all danger of frost is gone. Seeds should be six to twelve inches apart. Corn is a heavy feeder, so fertilize with good compost before planting the seeds.
Corn does not tolerate weeds well. However, it will tolerate beans growing along the stalks if you wait until the corn is up before planting the beans. Otherwise, the beans crowd out the corn. Squash can be planted after both the beans and corn are sprouted. It will spread out between rows and help crowd out weeds. The corn will shade it from the heaviest sun so the squash do not get sunburned.
Popcorn is harvested differently than sweet corn. Sweet corn is picked at the milk stage. Popcorn should be allowed to ripen completely and dry on the plant. Only then should you pick it.
Next, you shuck the husk off of the ear of corn. Now the kernels have to be removed from the cob. The husk and cob make good fire starters. The kernels can now be popped with a little oil and salt on the stove. Listen carefully and remove the popper from the stove when the rush of kernels popping stops. The line between popped and burned is pretty slim. Burned popcorn is practically inedible.
Some good varieties of corn to grow for popcorn are Strawberry, a nice red, Robust White, Robust Yellow, Japanese Hulless, and many of the corns referred to as “Indian Corn”. Experiment a little and see which ones you like best.
Corn is susceptible to many pests. Cut worms and other bugs eat the stalks, corn borers and corn earworms eat the corn, and raccoons will just eat your entire crop in one night. Plant more than you expect to need so you have some left over after the critters take their share. Who can blame them for wanting some popcorn, too?