No space for mealies in your gar­den? Try pop­corn says Jane Grif­fiths

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Grow­ing pop­corn

Pop­corn is a fun crop to grow in smaller gar­dens. It’s shorter than reg­u­lar maize and doesn’t re­quire as much space. It’s also a great way to en­cour­age chil­dren to be­come in­volved in gar­den­ing.


There are de­li­cious heir­loom va­ri­eties of pop­corn maize avail­able from Liv­ingseeds. These have a much nut­tier and more com­plex f lavour than reg­u­lar pop­corn.

Straw­berry is a strik­ing va­ri­ety. When ma­ture, the small cobs are about 5–8cm long and look like fat red straw­ber­ries. It’s also one of the tasti­est ones you can grow, burst­ing into small white pop­corn, with red f lecks at the base. It grows just over a me­tre high and each stalk bears two to four ears. It takes about 100 days to reach ma­tu­rity. Dakota Black grows up to 1,8m high and pro­duces 10–15cm-long cobs with dark black ker­nels that have a ruby-red hue. The f lavour is nutty and crunchy. It reaches ma­tu­rity af­ter 95 days.

Glass Gem is pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful and un­usual veg­etable you can grow. Each Glass Gem cob is unique, with translu­cent, brightly coloured

ker­nels that re­sem­ble jew­els. These make firm tit­bits when popped. Glass Gem grows to just over a me­tre tall, but can reach over 2m high. It is ready to har­vest af­ter 110–120 days. Store-bought yel­low pop­corn can also be planted, but some­times the ker­nels are too old or have been heated to kill weevils. Do a ger­mi­na­tion test be­fore plant­ing by soak­ing the seeds overnight then cov­er­ing with lay­ers of damp pa­per towel. Place in a well-lit area and keep moist. If they haven’t ger­mi­nated af­ter 10 days, try an­other va­ri­ety.


Soak the seeds overnight be­fore plant­ing. Di­rect sow seeds about 20–25cm apart in rich, fer­tile soil in full sun. Add Tal­borne Or­gan­ics

Vita Veg (6:3:4) to the soil at 80g/m² be­fore plant­ing.

Be­cause pop­corn is wind-pol­li­nated, sow the seeds in blocks rather than long sin­gle rows. This al­lows for bet­ter pollen distri­bu­tion. When the stalks are about half a me­tre high, heap the soil up around the bases of their stems to give them ex­tra sup­port. Keep the area weed free. Sunf low­ers grow well with pop­corn, but toma­toes are not good com­pan­ions.


Rapid growth de­pends on plenty of mois­ture, at least 2–3cm a week. Keep the ground thickly mulched and wa­ter well dur­ing hot dry spells.


Cut­worms love young seedlings. Adding bone­meal to the soil when plant­ing helps de­ter them. Var­i­ous bee­tles eat dif­fer­ent parts – from newly planted seeds to stalks and leaves. Con­trol these with Biogrow Py­rol. Only use this af­ter sun­set so it won’t af­fect bees and other pol­li­na­tors.


Leave the ears on the plant un­til the husks have dried and turned a creamy colour. Af­ter har­vest­ing, leave the ears in their husks and store in a well-aired spot. There are two ways to make pop­corn. You can ei­ther re­move the ker­nels by rub­bing two ears to­gether over a large bucket (the ker­nels will go f ly­ing so hold the ears in­side the bucket when rub­bing) and make it the usual way. Or you can leave them on the cob. Take the outer husk off and place the whole ear in­side a loosely closed, brown pa­per bag. Cook in the mi­crowave on high un­til all the ker­nels have popped. Add salt and en­joy.


Like all maize, pop­corn will crosspol­li­nate. To keep the seed ‘pure’, the dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties need to be more than 10m apart. A large crop of at least 100 plants is re­quired to keep the seed strong from year to year. Leave the ears to ma­ture and dry on the plant be­fore har­vest­ing. Pull the husks off and leave to dry com­pletely.

The tas­sels on a pop­corn plant.

Heir­loom pop­corn

Glass Gem

Dakota Black

Red Straw­berry

Plant­ing pop­corn in a block as­sists pol­li­na­tion.

Glass Gem

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