Ask a Local Master Gardener: How to make your corn go ‘pop!’

  • Patience is key when it comes to harvesting popcorn. KRT/BONNIE WELLER

For the Gazette
Published: 10/11/2019 2:00:22 AM
Modified: 10/11/2019 2:00:11 AM

Q: I grew popcorn for the first time this year. How do I know for sure when to harvest it? I think it’s ready. —R.B., Westhampton

A: Popcorn! That’s fun. You are spot-on sensing it is likely time to harvest your future movie night goodness.

The key to proper popping is in the drying of the corn. This process is an exercise in self-control as you need to wait for properly cured, hard kernels before you get out the popcorn butter. Popcorn must be left to dry on the cornstalk completely. This is longer than traditional sweet corn. You can twist off the ears once the cornstalk turns brown, the outer husks are completely brown and dry, and the corn kernels are hard. Once harvested, husk the ears and store them in a mesh bag or a basket that promotes air circulation, such as a peach basket. Store them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area for a few weeks.

If the weather was wet after the husks lose their green color, which it was last week and this week, be mindful of potential mold. To help avoid this problem, take off the husks and lay the ears out in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area for a good month or more. Old screen doors or hardware cloth are good drying surfaces. Lay them so air gets underneath. Mesh bags work, too. Hanging them up high helps prevent unwanted critters from getting your snack before you do.

This open-air ventilation is the curing process, where moisture evaporates from the kernels. Have you ever seen a moist popcorn kernel pop? It won’t! So, don’t skimp on the drying time lest you get mushy, moldy mash instead of beautiful hard corn.

After curing, test-pop a few kernels. If they are too moist and chewy they will not pop well and are not ready. Try again in a few days. If they pop well, you are ready to store the kernels. To do so, first remove all the kernels — rubbing two ears together helps — then seal the kernels in air-tight glass or ceramic containers in a cool, dry place. Popcorn should last well over a year when properly stored.

If this jarred popcorn fails to pop down the road, it may be too dry. To fix, add 1 tablespoon of water to 1 quart of kernels. Cover and shake in frequent intervals until the corn absorbs all the water. After 3 or 4 days, re-test and see if it pops. If it does, you are good to go. If it does not, repeat the process again until it does.

Once your harvesting, curing, and storing is done, you are ready to pop up a bowlful of well-deserved deliciousness and settle in front of the fire or TV and enjoy the rewards of your harvest. Now, where is that butter?

Great question, R.B. Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be answered per week.


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