Spice Up Your Popcorn!


How to grow your own chemical-free popcorn crop.

While gently shovelling mounds of popcorn into your mouth during a thrilling movie, a question may cross your mind – could I grow my own popcorn? Sure, you can go to any grocery store and buy a bag of popcorn kernels for R15, but where’s the fun in that?

Although it’s a bit more effort than a quick trip to the shop, growing your own popcorn can be a rewarding experience. Besides being able to boast that the copious amounts of popcorn you’re sharing with your friends came from your own garden, home-grown popcorn actually has more flavour, and the many varieties to choose from can add extra dimensions of colour and taste.

Growing Popcorn – Step 1:

Make sure it’s popcorn!

Not every type of corn can be popped. Regular mielies will not pop, much like popcorn doesn’t taste great eaten on the cob. While you can grow popcorn from the seeds bought in supermarkets, there are many other interesting varieties available:

Dakota Black: This plant produces kernels in a beautiful deep purple/black colour  with a slightly nutty taste. The plants grow to hip height and are easy to grow. The black kernels may make the popcorn look burnt but don’t let it fool you – it’s extremely tasty.

Strawberry: Named for its ears, which look like large strawberries, this corn is a smallish plant but packs big flavour. The rich red colour adds brightness to the garden and kitchen. Be warned, though: once you’ve eaten strawberry popcorn, no store-bought popcorn will do.

Glass Gem: When this surreal phenomenon circled the internet a few years ago, it was almost impossible to believe that it was natural. Now that it is available in South Africa you can view its beauty for yourself. The primary use is popcorn, creating a bowl of colourful kernels in a sea of white.

Step 2: Plant

It’s important to make sure the seeds that you plant are fertile. You could use seeds from a grocery store, but they might have been treated somehow, which could prevent germination. Some kernels might also just be too old to be viable. Buying from a seed company is usually the safest option, and considering that you’re going to the effort of growing your own this makes the most sense. After all, if you’re growing your own you might as well try one of the more interesting varieties!

Plant between August and January for a decent crop. Soak  the seeds in warm water for 12 hours before planting in a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Space the seeds about 12cm apart, with rows about 90cm apart. It is recommended that you plant at least 80 plants for genetic integrity, and plant at least four rows for successful wind pollination. Water often until the corn is ready to harvest. When the plants are  knee height, be sure to pack extra soil around the stalks for support.

Step 3: Harvest

In approximately 100 days, depending on the variety, the corn will be ready for harvest. As the kernels need to be dried before cooking, they can be left on the stalks to dry in the sun. Ensure the kernels are completely dry before removing as too much moisture can make them difficult to remove and difficult to cook.

In damp weather corn can also be dried in the oven. Preheat the oven to 150°C, pop the corn in and then turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Dry for 5 hours, then turn the heat off and leave in the oven overnight to cool. All that’s left is to enjoy!

Step 4: Cook the Popcorn

Cooking popcorn on the stove can be a tricky balance between chewing on dry seeds or coughing through black popcorn ash. For perfect popcorn every time, the right heat is key. Heat oil in a pot on medium-high heat and throw three kernels in. Once those three kernels have popped, add the rest of the popcorn, put the lid on and remove from the heat for 30 seconds to allow the new kernels to come to the same temperature. Return to the heat and continuously shake gently until you hear a few seconds between each pop.

Take off the heat and enjoy the fruits of your labour, making the short journey from your garden to the couch for movie night.

The Gardener