The land base available for growing crops on many homesteads can be at a premium.
When tillable acreage is limited, you’ve got to choose wisely what will be planted to get the biggest return.
That usually means a garden first to feed the family and, if there’s any tillable land left, livestock feeds or cash crops.
One of my favorite crops for extra land base is heirloom popcorn — a sort of “forgotten” homestead crop.
Popcorn is easily grown, and the returns can be profitable. My family started out with a small plot and has expanded every year. Small plots can still supply a nice profit, and harvesting, shelling and cleaning can be done manually.
The average yield on an acre of popcorn ranges from 1,000 to 4,000 pounds of grain. That’s anywhere from $2,500 to more than $10,000 per acre gross profit!
The key points to remember when growing popcorn is to make sure it doesn’t cross pollinate with other corn you may be growing. With heirloom varieties, the plant population is lower than standard field corn.
The ideal moisture content for popcorn is between 13 and 14 percent. Once or twice a week, shell an ear and pop it. When the test kernels are popping well, it’s time to shell all the popcorn and store it.
Popcorn can be shelled by hand or even better, you can find an old corn sheller and use it. If you plan to sell the popcorn, you may need to use a cleaner to remove any debris that is in it. Cleaners can be built or purchased. I use my corn cleaner that was purchased for cleaning shelled corn that we burn in our corn stove. It’s basically a strainer with a fan to blow away the debris as the corn falls into a container.
Store popcorn in airtight containers. If stored properly, popcorn should maintain its popping quality for several years. If it gets too dry, simply add about a tablespoon of water per quart of popcorn and shake a few times over the next day or so until the popcorn absorbs the moisture.
The market for heirloom popcorn is growing and it isn’t hard to create one in your local area. You will need to educate your customers on how to pop popcorn on the stovetop, since most people today think all popcorn is made for the microwave.
My experience has been once people try heirloom popcorn, they are amazed at how much better it tastes than commercial popcorn. They have no problem paying a bit more and popping it on the stove.
With a little time and effort, you can have a cash crop that keeps customers coming back for years to come.