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GROW YOUR OWN POPCORN
A sunny garden bed, water and fertilizer is all you need to grow your own popcorn. Popcorn is one of the best all-around snack foods, providing almost as much protein, iron and calcium as beef. A cup of popped, unbuttered popcorn contains fewer calories than half a medium-sized grapefruit, about 40. Popcorn has as much fiber as bran flakes or whole wheat toast.
Varieties: Many different kinds of popcorn are available, including yellow, white, blue, red and black. Yellow popcorn is traditional "movie popcorn", popping up large and chewy. White popcorn tends to be smaller and crunchier. Although the colored popcorn will pop up white, the colorful kernels on the cob also make for excellent fall decorations.
Planting Popcorn: Choose a site that gets full sun and a soil that drains easily (no standing water). Plant the kernels, two inches deep, anytime between Mother's Day and the 4th of July. For better pollination, plant in short blocks instead of a single row. Thin out the seedlings to stand 10-12 inches apart; space rows three feet apart. Don't plant popcorn within 100 feet of sweet corn; cross pollination could ruin both crops.
Care and Feeding: Popcorn needs about two inches of water per week during the growing season, about 100 days. Water is especially important from the time the silks appear until the kernels develop. Fertilize with a cup of 12-12-12 fertilizer for each 50 foot row. Apply as a sidedressing to the row or in a one foot wide band. Three fertilizations work best: at planting time; when the stalks are knee high, and again when tassels appear at the top of the stalks. If the older leaves turn yellow or the younger leaves are pale green after tasseling, add another sidedressing of fertilizer.
Harvesting Your Popcorn: About the time the Major League Baseball Playoffs begin (early October), your popcorn should be ready to harvest. The stalks will be mostly brown, the husks will be dry and the kernels hard. Try popping a few kernels on the stove in a pan of hot oil at this stage; if most of them pop, that's your sign to remove the ears from the stalks. Husk the ears, place them in a mesh bag or old nylon stocking to cure for two to three weeks in a warm, dry, well ventilated area. Again, pop a few kernels; if they pop, strip the kernels from the cobs and store the kernels in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Is It Popcorn Yet? 13% moisture level is ideal. Popcorn that is chewy after popping is still too wet; let the kernels dry some more, popping a few every couple of days until the popcorn is no longer chewy. If you get too many unpopped kernels, add moisture to the storage container. Pour one tablespoon of water over a quart of popcorn, shake it up a couple of times on Day 1. By Day 3, try popping another batch. Repeat this procedure until most of the kernels are popping.