Thursday, September 3, 2009

When to Harvest Popcorn

This is my second year growing popcorn. Last year I grew a miniature variety which I harvested in early August. While the variety matured on the early side, I think I was a little premature in harvesting last year. The popcorn popped. But the kernels were smaller than even the miniature variety would necessarily have produced.

I get a surprising amount of traffic to my blog on search terms for harvesting popcorn. So it seems a lot of home growers out there are looking for information on when to harvest their crop. Who knew? Harvesting sweet corn can be done simply by counting three weeks from when the tassels appear. But popcorn harvest is much more ambiguous. I myself have been a little uncertain this year.

So, plucky soul that I am, I got my question to someone at the Rodale Institute, which is reasonably local to me. The word that came back was that, ideally, ears of popcorn should dry on the stalk. However, if the weather continues wet, it may be better to harvest the popcorn and dry it inside. Ears ready for harvest will have lost their green coloration and the husks will look dry. One indicator that will tell you harvest should have been done yesterday is the stalk. If the stalk looks dry, but becomes soft and pithy, the plant is essentially rotting, and that's eventually going to affect the ear of corn too. If you see those characteristics on your popcorn stalks, harvest the ears and get them out of the damp. Above all, the gardener should prevent the ear of corn getting moldy. Admittedly, harvesting popcorn calls for subjective judgment and a close eye on the weather forecast. There's no rule based on a fixed number of days after planting, or a hard and fast date on the calendar. That's the way it goes with some crops.

Drying the corn inside can be done on screens, such as those from old storm doors, or on wire fencing or hardware cloth that you might use in the garden. You could also put the ears into net bags saved from store-bought onions, and then hang the bags up air out. If you have burlap bags, that might also work. Hanging the popcorn up will also discourage any critters you might have in a garage or outdoor drying area from helping themselves. It's best to dry the corn, like just about everything else, out of direct sunlight, away from intense heat, but where there's lots of air circulation.

There's still a bit of green on this mostly dried out husk. If the weather cooperates and stays dry, I'll let the green fade completely before harvesting.

Given these guidelines, I'm going to let my popcorn go for a while yet, if I can. We had several days of very wet weather last week, but this week has turned autumnal and dry. I'm hoping our current pattern of just warm, dry days and cool nights will hold. If it does, I may be able to harvest in a couple weeks.

P.S. If you want suggestions on cooking perfect oil-popped popcorn, go here.


Tree Huggin Momma said...

Never really thought of growing popcorn, but it sounds like a fun little project for the kids. I am adding it to my list for my garden next year.

Jen said...

Do you dry the cobs in the husk? Funny I should just google this today and find that you had just posted this today! (And that I actually knew your blog! :))

Kate said...

THM, we eat a lot of popcorn, so it was a natural for us. I think kids would get a real kick out of growing popcorn, provided they're not the instant-gratification sort of kid I was. Popcorn is not a fast return sort of crop.

Jen, glad I could be of help. That's a good question though. I think it's a good idea to peel back the husks after harvest. Even after harvest, popcorn benefits from a "curing" period. If there are any critters in the ear, they'd probably be discouraged by the exposure, and then they would have less chance to migrate from one ear to another. But on the other hand, popcorn is pretty tough stuff - not the most munchable food around. So maybe once the ear is mature it's at little risk from anything that would hide inside the husk.

Jen said...

Mmmm...okay, good points. I think I'll end up having to pick while the husks are still green, so the cobs will end up having to mature in the garage...and I think I recall photos of corn drying in hot places with the husks shucked back (but still attached), cobs hanging down. Gotta love experimenting. :)

Anonymous said...


My name is Bill Hawthorne, and I represent, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer information. Our organization is dedicated to increasing awareness of the terrible health consequences of asbestos exposure.

I found your site through a search and decided to contact you because of its high environmental and green presence which is extremely important in our movement. Your viewers are extremely savvy and motivated. The promotion of how buildings should now be built using sustainable green products to avoid asbestos and mesothelioma as well as the awareness of past buildings and preventative steps in avoiding asbestos exposure are extremely important. My goal is to get a resource link on your site/blog or even to provide a guest posting to be placed.

I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to check out our website. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Bill Hawthorne
MAA Center is now on Twitter – follow us @maacenter

Kate said...

Bill, thanks for the offer. Since this is a personal blog however, I choose to write about what I know from personal experience. I don't know much about your proposed topics. So while it sounds like a good topic and cause, I think it's outside the scope of this particular blog. Good luck to you though.

Nicole said...


Thank you for this post. It was very I am a newbie at planting/harvesting popcorn. Looks like I need to wait awhile (I'm in southwest Ohio). Blessings to you!


Jena said...

Thanks for the great info. I'm off to harvest my popcorn now since I think all the green is gone and it is supposed to rain all week. That'll be one more thing done before the really cold weather comes.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

We have had a couple of heavy frosts and a freeze at my garden here in Denver. I pulled the brussel sprouts yesterday, my first year for these, they really stole the show for the coolest looking plants. We harvested the popcorn today, I could have let them go a few more frosts like last year,my first, but our harvest this year was incredible and I want to try to do better. Last year I did not shuck them, spread them out in the basement and some molded but we lost little and still had a good time with them. This year I started shucking them the next day and spread them out upstairs. After a few hours some of the kernals have turned whitish brown, have obviously dried too quickly, mesh bags are probably a good idea but in this high desert I still have concerns about too rapid drying. I think I'll put the shucked ones in a canvas bag and watch them and roll the others around in the husk and see if I can control the drying. I'll probabably get tired of this and shuck them next weekend. Bruce

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me this?? Our popcorn dried too well so we are slowly adding tablespoon by tablespoon of water to each jar and shaking it numerous times a day. The first batch turned out great and we are currently doing the second batch. My question is, can we freeze the popcorn that is done and will it still pop good when it is brought out. Can it stay out for awhile after it is brought out? Thanks

Kate said...

Anon, I really don't know. The technique of adding water to overdried popcorn is one I've never heard of. And freezing popcorn is something else I've never tried. I usually just put the popcorn in a tightly sealed jar and keep it away from too much light, in a pantry cupboard. That seems sufficient to have it last about a year.

If you froze popcorn kernels, I would expect it to form condensation when it's removed from the freezer, which could lead to it absorbing more moisture than you intend. If you want to try it, seal it really tightly in a bag or container, and then don't open it until the entire package has returned to room temperature. This will prevent the worst of the condensation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your intel Kate. Believe it or not, adding water tablespoon by tablespoon worked great when the popcorn was overdried. It went from hardly popping and being small kernels to popping all nice and big, fluffy popcorn! Now, we just have to keep it that way. Thanks again. We'll put it in something tightly sealed and put it way back in our pantry.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I put popcorn in the freezer
and it last for years. Take out
what you want to put and put it
right back in the freezer so it
doesn't condensate. I am looking
to purchase some mini miniature
popcorn which was grown in Ohio.
If anyone know where I can purchase
this yellow variety. That would
be great. I tried other website
but it is not what I am looking for. This farmer is no longer with
you. I have grown this popcorn
before but it La. with the bugs
and high humidity, it is not really
the right climate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the help. I too was unsure. Its been a dry one thus far so hopefully I'll keep em on the stalk. I tried Purple Passion this year- Purple kernels that are pink when popped. Cant wait to try em! Thanks!

Kate said...

Anon, it's been a very dry year here too, and the popcorn is looking very close to ready for harvest. Everything seems earlier this year. Pink popcorn! Wow.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information! This is my first year growing popcorn, and your site was really helpful!

Anonymous said...

We got a few nights of unexpected rain and after a few days I decided to go ahead and harvest because the cobs were dry and brown and I didn't know if we would get even more rain. Some of the cobs have a powdery green substance (maybe mold). Is it ok to clean that off and use the popcorn? Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I've been looking for basic guidelines for harvesting popcorn, and I very much appreciate the pictures you've posted. A week or two and mine should be ready. Can't wait!

Carrie said...

Hi, this is a great blog! This was my first try at popcorn. I plant black passion and yellow Tom Thimb. I harvested it today but am at a loss as what to do next. I read all the post and learned so much. What is winnowing? And how do I get the kernels of the cob?

Jack Galloway said...

Thanks for the info! Our 7 kids and I are novice gardener and we have our first popcorn patch on our farm this year. Good luck with staying frugal. I work for Dave Ramsey so reach out anytime. Jack Galloway in TN

Diamond Dave said...

My concern about my popcorn drying on the stalk is the insect issue. My neighbors garden is filled with squash and cucumbers. Thus, I fight and lose the battle against the squash bugs and cucumber beetles each year with my melons.

Will these insects attack my pop corn ? This year Japanese beetles took out a lot of my sweet corn. And last year mold got my popcorn. Any suggestions on how to insect proof my precious popcorn ?

Kate said...

Dave, by the time popcorn gets to the drying stage, it's usually pretty hard. There might be a few insects strong enough to munch it at that point, but usually there are easier pickins around that they prefer. Most insect damage that I've seen on popcorn happens when the kernels are in the soft stage, and even then, popcorn is never as tender as sweet corn. In my experience, popcorn is more at risk from rodents and other animals with proper teeth, and that usually happens after when popcorn is left on the stalk past its harvest-by date.

Kelly Jones said...

I like to use panty hose for drying the ears after harvest. Just slip in an ear, tie a knot above it and repeat like a popcorn sausage. Hang them to dry in an airy place.