BURSTING WITH FLAVOUR
No space for mealies in your garden? Try popcorn says Jane Griffiths
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.
VARIETIES TO TRY
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.
FEEDING AND WATERING
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.
PESTS AND DISEASES
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.
HARVESTING AND EATING
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.
Planting popcorn in a block assists pollination.