Seed Sense: Why isn't my heirloom popcorn popping?

corn 3We get some pretty seedy questions on our Facebook page. We'll share our answers to the most popular ones here on our blog. If you have more suggestions to add to our answer, please feel free to leave a comment below.

At this time of year, we always hear questions about harvesting, drying, curing, and popping corn. Gail Plaskiewicz asks:

 Q: I planted popcorn this year and picked it when it was ready. I've been popping it but it's not popping too well. I always pop my popcorn on top of the stove and have been doing it that way for years. When I put my heirloom popcorn in the pan some of it pops and a lot of it burns or doesn't open all the way up. I tried the microwave and the same thing happened. What's wrong w/my popcorn? I'd like to plant it again but not if it does this when I pop it. I have an electric stove and never burn it when I pop regular popcorn. When I picked the corn 2 weeks ago the cobs were very small and the kernels were soft so I waited for them to harden up. Did I do something wrong or was it my popcorn?

A: This is a problem we hear about quite frequently. I can offer a few suggestions for you which we have learned for ourselves and from other customers. With homegrown popcorn, it is of utmost importance that it be completely dry before attempting popping. Popcorn should ideally be left in the garden until the stalks and husks are brown and dry. When you cannot leave a mark on the kernel with your fingernail it is a good time to harvest. You can now remove each ear from its stalk and strip away the dried husk. Do this before the first frost. The kernels are at this point partially "cured." Most people find that it is necessary to leave the ears to dry in a well ventilated area for an additional 4-6 weeks. After that, the kernels can be removed from the ear and placed in an airtight jar for storage. You may also want to consider storing your popcorn in the freezer to dry it even further. A lot of our customers find that this makes a big difference when popping. The Hudson Valley is a very humid area! - Lauren Waddington, Hudson Valley Seed Library

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