Popcorn Updates

An immature miniature blue popcorn cob

I’m quite behind when it comes to blog posts- there always seems to be something to plant, or harvest, or weed. All of which, in the moment, are more important than writing about it. However, what that means is that I actually finished harvesting the popcorn this week. I want to tell you all about it, but it won’t really make sense until I give you some background about planting the strawberry mini, or about the genetic variability in the blue, etc. So, please ignore what you have seen on facebook and instagram for the next few minutes, and pretend we are back in time!

Prepped garden beds, ready for popcorn seed
Two prepared garden beds, ready for popcorn seed.

On the 18th of November I planted (with some coerced aid from Matt) the Strawberry Mini Popcorn at Vidamour. A fairly late planting as it turns out- a full two months after the Blue. Similarly to my first planting, I wanted around 120 plants, to allow for some losses, and I was space limited. I planted two beds, next to each other at Vidamour Farm. Each had three rows of corn, with approximately 20cm spacing

I was worried about the seed drying out with the hot weather, but I was also concerned that too much water would rot the seed. So after much angst, I decided to hedge my bets. After direct seeding (and watering) I covered one bed with pea straw straight away, and the other I left. I planted the spare seed I had in small 2″ soil blocks.

Popcorn in soil blocks- unusual since corn is ordinarily direct seeded.
Popcorn in soil blocks- unusual since corn is ordinarily direct seeded.

I actually had incredibly poor germination. In the Blue Popcorn only one or two seeds didn’t germinate. In the Strawberry, I averaged 32% germination. So terrible that I rang the seed company. They said they hadn’t had any problems, so I was left with it being my fault.

I would have been less confused if it weren’t for the experiment I had set up. The results for each of the three planting methods were different, (Ranging from 29.6-34.5%), but frankly, they were all terrible. The seed company suggested that the poor germination was due to watering, but given I had one bed likely slightly dry, one bed likely slightly wet, and the soil blocks kept lightly moist the whole time, I doubt this very much. Luckily I had ordered too much seed, so I used the extra to fill the beds in until I had enough plants to save stable seed.

Strawberry Mini Popcorn growing at Vidamour Farm
Strawberry Mini Popcorn growing at Vidamour Farm on the 12th of January, 2015

Fast Forward to January and the Miniature Blue Popcorn had flowered, and had dozens of corn cobs growing and silking. Most plants had at least two cobs, while some had as many as four. By the end of January the blue corn had been in the ground for 100 days, the amount of time written on the seed packet. Despite the cobs starting to feel ’rounded’ they’re husks were green, definitely not dry yet!

Of course, being the curious sort of gal I am, I immediately opened one up. As you can see below, the corn is quite well formed: if I were growing a sweet corn I would be thinking of harvesting. However, the popcorn seeds need further development to be viable, and I was still waiting for the blue colour to develop!

An immature miniature blue popcorn cob
An immature miniature blue popcorn cob

Interestingly, there was also a significant height difference amongst the blue popcorn plants: A handful were far taller than I, while others were quite small, only half that size. The Strawberry Mini growing at Vidamour (knee high, and yet to flower) was all within a few centimetres of height.

I thought there were two possible reasons. The first being genetic variability in the blue seed, while the strawberry popcorn had been better selected for longer. The other possibility was that the taller plants had more sunshine, and more nutrients.

The Miniature Blue Popcorn bed from the side: You can clearly see a few oddly tall plants.
The Miniature Blue Popcorn bed from the side: You can clearly see a few oddly tall plants.

All of the plants that were taller were located towards the back of the garden bed, where there was direct sun for longer. However, not all of the plants at the back were taller. This made me believe that it was a combination of both factors. Unfortunately, I was pretty wrong, and I didn’t find this out until harvest, and thus, next blog post!

Wanna read more about growing popcorn? Check out Chapter One (Planning to Save Seed) and Chapter Two (White Fly and other Pests).

 

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