Growing popcorn

corn.jpgFoods made from genetically engineered (GE) crops, also known as genetically modified (GM) foods, are not required to be labelled in the United States, and Australian consumers of imported corn products could unknowingly be eating these foods. Labelling rules for GE/GM foods set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) fail to protect consumers as they allow many exceptions to labelling of GE/GM foods and ingredients, and rely heavily on the honesty of producers and processors to inform the public of the genetically engineered content of the food they buy. There is no post-marketing assessment of foods to ensure compliance with GE/GM labelling regulations.
If your family is fond of eating popcorn, and you wish to avoid GM foods, why not grow your own popcorn this summer.

Update – 16/11/2013
The first step is to buy popcorn seed, which is becoming extremely difficult to find. Gardeners in QLD, NSW, VIC and the NT can order organically-certified seed from:
Green Harvest –  ‘Popcorn’, although the variety being sold this year is a hybrid which means that you won’t be able to save some seed for next year’s crop. It appears that ‘Golf Ball’, ‘Ontos’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Blue Mini’ and ‘Strawberry Mini’ have already disappeared from the market.
Popcorn is made from a particular ancient variety of corn whose kernels (seeds) contain air pockets. When the dried kernels are heated, the air in the kernels expands and the seed “pops” open. Plants that produce popcorn may have several stems and carry multiple small cobs, instead of the usual two large cobs per plant of many other corn varieties.
Popcorn is grown in the same way as sweet corn, as it is also a heavy feeder. It needs a sunny position and well-drained soil that has had plenty of organic matter added in the form of compost or well-rotted manures, plus an application of complete organic fertiliser. All varieties of corn do well if grown after a green manure crop – a point to remember for next year. Because corn relies on wind drift for pollination, small quantities of corn are best grown in a block rather than rows. If you are growing other varieties of corn, allow at least a month between sowing popcorn and the other varieties because they can cross-pollinate.

Sowing seed:
Corn requires a soil temperature of 20Β° C for germination. Popcorn can be sown from August North of Rockhampton, and from September in other warm areas. Other areas can begin sowing in October. Popcorn takes a little under 4 months to reach maturity.
Seed is sown directly into a mulched bed. Space planting holes 40-45 cm apart, and sow two seeds, 3 cm deep, in each hole. Traditionally, popcorn is sown during First Quarter moon phase.
When seedlings have developed their second set of leaves, thin them to the strongest seedling at each position, and give the seedlings a drink of manure tea. When plants are knee high, hill them up about 15 cm encourage extra roots to form, and to make the plants more stable in windy conditions. Corn requires regular irrigation until cobs mature, and it more likely to attract corn earworm if water is in short supply.

Corn plants produce separate male and female flowers. The male flowers that produce pollen are shaped like ears of wheat at the top of the plant. Another drink of manure tea, and a drink of seaweed tea can be applied when the male flowers start to form.
The female “flowers” are the green silk tassels that protrude from the cob sheath. Each strand of the tassel is attached to a single kernel on the cob and poor pollination occurs when wind is absent and pollen only falls onto one side of the tassel. In still conditions, you may have to flop the tassels around, or transfer pollen with a dry paintbrush to ensure that all the silk strands are pollinated.

Harvesting popcorn:
Popcorn cobs remain on the plants past the harvesting stage for sweet corn, to allow the seeds to fully mature. As soon as tassels have browned, the plants should be netted, as birds know exactly when corn is perfect for eating. When the husk, or sheath, of the cobs has begun to dry and is changing to a pale cream colour, the corn is close to maturity. If weather is fine, cobs can be left on the plants until the sheaths are completely dry, or they can be brought indoors at this point to complete drying. We leave them on racks indoors for several days, then carefully peel back the husks, thread wool or string through the turned-back husks, tie the string to form a loop, and hang the cobs from a hook until the seeds are completely dry about 14 days after the husks have dried. Kernels can be left on the cob or shucked by rubbing two cobs together over a large bowl. It is recommended that the kernels be transferred to a sealed plastic container and frozen for two days to kill any weevil eggs that made have been laid in the seeds. After freezing, transfer the popcorn to a screw-top jar, and pop as required.

8 thoughts on “Growing popcorn

  1. I would never plant popcorn from a shop as often it is from imported seed. Many countries grow GM popcorn and I would hate to grow this unawares. I have purchased popcorn seed from two places that I would recommend:
    The first one sells heirloom vegetable seeds, herbs and rare perennial vegetables through the post, they are located in NSW. The second one mainly has vegetable seeds and are located in WA.

    Thanks for the links, Maurice. – Lyn

  2. I bought a couple of different types of unpopped popcorn in Santa Fe, but Customs took them from me at Sydney Airport. I’m still intrigued to know if you can get other varieties of popcorn in Australia. – Peter
    Popped corn is made from an ancient type of corn that is becoming as rare as hen’s teeth in Australia. This ia a great shame as most of the corn from the USA is genetically modified. Only a couple of years ago several different varieties of popcorn were available in Australia, but this year Eden Seeds seems to be the only supplier of popcorn with one variety – ‘Golf Ball’. They can be contacted at
    Make sure you grow some extra plants to save seed for next year’s crop. – Lyn

  3. My grandfather used to grow the Strawberry Popcorn when I was younger and on a recent trip to the USA I saw packets for sale everywhere, which reminded me to look for some when I get back home since quarantine is pretty strict when it comes to corn. Sadly I think everyone has dropped the Strawberry Popcorn from their lists.

    Adam, Greenpatch Seeds had these seeds not so long ago. They are not in their latest catalogue but you could ask Neville if he still has some. See

    Failing that, Eden Seeds import organic seed from the US for their Select Organic range. You could ask them if they will include some in their next order. – Lyn

  4. I am not sure what the fuss is about as regards seed for popping corn. We have successfully grown corn from the packet of popping corn kernels e.g. Riviana Popping Corn which is Australian grown. We take a handful of the corn kernels, plant them in the garden circa September October and voila popping corn for summer. We generally get two to three corn cobs per plant.
    All the pop corn seed that I have come across in our area recently is imported from the US, and virtually all corn grown there is GM or has been contaminated with GM pollen – unless it bears a certified-organic label. Just because Riviana is an Australian company does not mean that their popping corn is Australian grown, as a lot of their products are imported. Australia grows a lot of rice for export but the Riviana Basmati we have in our pantry was grown in Pakistan. However, Riviana popping corn does get a tick of approval from the Ethical Consumers website, as does Green’s Poppin. If these products are available in your area – give sowing some of the seed a try – as pop corn seed tends to be in short supply from seed merchants. – Lyn

  5. Hi, Is there any way to get the seed into WA or do you know of any WA suppliers? I’ve always loved growing the unusual but find many varieties hard to get now I live in WA. – Karen

    Hi Karen, there are two WA seed suppliers of organically grown seed that I know of:
    Bay Seed Garden – Organic seed producers of open-pollinated heritage vegetable, herb and flower seed. List available – send 1 x 55c stamp. Ph: (08) 9752 2513 Mail: PO Box 1164 Busselton WA 6280
    The Greenhouse – Organically grown open-pollinated vegetable and herb seed. Seed packets are also available from some retail outlets. Ph: 0400 239 258 email:
    If they don’t have popcorn, you could try asking Richters if they still sell in WA.

  6. I am having trouble finding the popcorn seeds at the link site. Can you help me please?
    Thanks for sharing this my 3 yr old twins would love to grow their own popcorn …do you have other 3yr old friendly ideas to plant from seed/seddlings for spring ?

    Hi Trish, you probably could not find them as they are listed in with the corn varieties under ‘C’, not ‘P’.
    Greenpatch has ‘Blue Mini’ and ‘Strawberry Mini’ popcorn, and these can be found by copying and pasting this URL:

    However, if it is a project for your children, may I suggest you get some ‘Ontos Oval’ popcorn seed from Eden Seeds. This variety is very easy to grow and makes a delicious popcorn. Go to the URL below, select ‘Browse Seeds’, and click on ‘Vegetables’, then ‘C’. Scroll down the page and you will find the popcorn in the corn section.

    Both companies take phone orders if you have trouble ordering online. As for other vegetables suitable for children to grow, it will depend on where you live. I will be posting August planting on the blog in the next day or so. – Lyn

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