You must have seen the images of mystical-looking corn floating around on the internet if you spend any time browsing the web. The beauty of this literal gem is so pristine that it is hard not to be entranced.
Glass Gem corn has jewellike kernels that look artificial at first glance and even at a closer look. However, we assure you that this maize is anything but a sham.
While the corn might look like something out of a fairy tale, it is very much real. Let’s peel back the layers on this beautiful work of crop art so you can experience the ethereal deliciousness yourself.
What Is This Magical Plant?
- 1 What Is This Magical Plant?
- 2 How Has This Mesmerizing Corn Come to Be?
- 3 What Is Glass Gem Corn Used For?
- 4 How Is Glass Gem Corn Grown?
- 5 Three Sisters Planting Scheme
- 6 How to Care for Glass Gem Corn?
- 7 Harvesting the Jewels
As the name describes, Glass Gem corn is a unique strain of rainbow-colored corn with jewellike kernels. It comes in all kinds of different color patterns and is simply mesmerizing.
Greg Schoen, whom we will talk about in detail ahead, reported that the Carl Barnes, the genius behind the plant, told him that it was cultivated from a crossing of “Pawnee miniature popcorns with an Osage red flour corn and also another Osage corn called ‘Greyhorse.'”
Glass Gem corn is mostly used ornamentally, with farmers and enthusiasts growing their own strains and experimenting with the different colors. The most popular use is making popcorn, for which the kernels are first dried out completely to take the moisture out for the popping process.
How Has This Mesmerizing Corn Come to Be?
Glass Gem corn’s story starts in good old Oklahoma. Carl Barnes, a Cherokee farmer, decided to get in touch with his Native American roots by experimenting with different corn seeds. He identified and isolated unusual corn seeds that had been once native to his ancestors and started selecting corn with different colors and cross-breeding them.
Nobody knows when exactly Barnes started this magical journey, but in 1994, Barnes had put his rainbow corn on display at a native plant gathering and met Greg Schoen, who would go on to become his protegee.
Schoen acquired some seeds from Barnes and grew the mystical corn himself, first on a small scale in Mexico and then later in Santa Fe.
In Santa Fe, Schoen grew the unusual corn with traditional variety, which together went on to produce more vivid colors and patterns on the cobs. At this time, however, this magical corn was not well known.
In 2007, Schoen named the multicolored strain of the corn “Glass Gem corn.” Two years later, Schoen gave several seed varieties to Bill McDorman, who owned an Arizona seed company called Seed Trust. Today, these seeds can be directly bought from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
Schoen is not affiliated with the company and was reported to be still working on the maize strains back in 2013. The magical corn journey that started with Carl Barnes, who passed away in 2016, has been continued by Schoen.
What Is Glass Gem Corn Used For?
When they come across the Glass Gem corn, most people believe it is too pretty to be eaten. It is widely used for various ornamentation purposes but being corn, it is edible, of course.
Gem Glass corn is often called “flint corn” because of its hard kernels and thus is not eaten directly on the cob like regular corn. However, it can be processed in various ways to enjoy.
The most common of these ways, and our beloved, is popcorn. Unfortunately, the popcorn made from this colorful corn do not come out rainbow-colored. There might be tiny specs on there that hint to the previous jewel like glory, but the popcorn looks like their usual fluffy white deliciousness.
Because this corn is very starchy, people also grind it to be used as cornmeal and grits for tortillas. Cornmeal can be stored in the fridge for months on end and is used in many baking recipes.
Of course, nothing beats the demand for filling frits, especially when it comes to Mexican cuisine.
You can also start growing the Glass Gen corn in your home garden or farm. Once you get the crop going, you can start experimenting on your own with different shades, and who knows the different color mixes and patterns you may attain on your own?
How Is Glass Gem Corn Grown?
Glass Gem corn needs a warm environment and abundant sunlight to grow well. No corn likes frost, and this kind is no different. Usually, the crop is started after the last frost dates in the spring.
From sowing the seed to the harvest, the corn takes 100 to 110 days to grow fully. The stalks usually grow from 6 to 10 feet tall, and each stalk contains 2 to 5 ears. Each ear can measure anywhere around 3 to 8 inches long.
The corn also needs adequate shelter from the high winds and a sunlight-rich area. For the farmers in the north, it is best to try and grow the crop in a high tunnel or greenhouse structure to deal with the weather and limited growing seasons.
Throughout the season, ensure adequate moisture is provided to the soil. Glass Gem corn can grow well in a broad range of soil types with different pH levels.
Combating the Short Growing Season With Transplanting
Flint corn always needs longer growing seasons to be fully mature. So, it can be challenging to try and grow the Glass Gem corn in places with strict short growing seasons.
One way to combat a shorter growing season is first to plant the crop indoors and then shift the young crop outside to get maximum sun exposure during the peak season. Transplanting can be assisted by using biodegradable pots or even just toilet roll tubes.
Using these containers would ensure minimal root disturbance during transplanting from indoors to outdoors. The process, however, needs to be done with utmost care and planning.
- Colorful and tasty corn
- 1-2 ears per stalk, each 6-8" long. Plants 8-10' tall. 110 days. Soak seeds for 24-48 hours before planting. Start indoors 2-3 weeks before desired transplant date
- They are sold in lots of 100 because corn must be planted in clusters (not rows). Too few plants won't pollinate themselves and you'll get bare cobs
- Keep moist, not letting the seeds dry out between watering. Sow 1 inch deep. Thin Plants to 8-12". Clusters Spacing 24-30". Zones 4-9.
- Scroll down for detailed planting instruction
- Carl Barnes
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You would need to ensure that the front season has passed before you sow the crop and that the temperatures are not too cold for the crop to survive.
Once you are sure of the weather, that even the nighttime is not dangerously cold for the young plants, you can transplant them outside in soil that is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The corn seedlings start emerging 5 to 10 days after plantation. Once they have grown to be at least 4 inches tall, you can thin them to one seed per 12 inches. You should apply granular fertilizer from around the plantation using a cultivator or a garden hoe one month after the seedlings emerge.
Arrange It in Rows or Let It Run Wild?
Instead of planting the crop in long rows, you should sow it in blocks. Having blocks with at least three rows each is more beneficial for the crop than having long-isolated lines because more rows offer protection, guard against wind and water erosion, and more.
Make sure to maintain a distance of at least six inches between all planted seeds, and sow the seeds/crop one inch deep into the soil.
Carl Barnes revived something precious that was lost in chaos and time. This heritage corn, mastered by the natives, is meant to be sown and looked after like the indigenous people did. The Native people used to grow corn in polycultures and the popular three sisters planting scheme.
Three Sisters Planting Scheme
The name “three sisters” comes from planting three different crops together. Famously, the Native Americans used to plant corn, beans, and squash together.
The beauty of this planting method is that while all three crops are individual, each having its different characteristics, they can help each other in the growing process.
Just like three different cogs in a machine need each other’s support to turn and assist others in turning, these plants benefit from each other’s presence. The corn stalks offer support in the system for the beans to climb up.
Beans, being nitrogen fixers, provide essential nutrients to the entire polyculture family of plants. Finally, squash, or even pumpkin, included in the planting scheme helps retain the soil’s moisture. It is planted around the outside of the planting block and helps shade the soil as well as reduce weeds.
How to Care for Glass Gem Corn?
You need to ensure that the corn crop is fertilized throughout the growing season. So, use an organic mulch to provide slow-release fertilization for the crop, and along with adequate mulching around the bed, ensure a good water supply to the crop throughout the season.
Using a general-purpose organic liquid feed when the cobs start to form on the crop can also help with plant growth. You would also need to provide one inch of water to the crop every week.
It is always wise to plan and be on the lookout for pests. Glass Gem corn is not a challenging crop to grow, but corn earworm can be very damaging to it. The earworm is the larval stage of a tan moth. This pest likes to feed on the corn silk and bores into the corn ears, completely consuming the kernels.
You can make sure your crop is safe from corn earworm by ensuring a healthy balance of predatory insects on your farm or garden. These include lacewings, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and flies.
Harvesting the Jewels
True to its “flint corn” status, most of the Glass Gem corn is left to dry out on the plant. During the drying process, the kernels naturally start to fade in their vibrancy, and all the moisture is dried out. Once the kernels are hardened, only then are the crops harvested.
Flint corn is harvested in the fall season because it is not meant to be consumed fresh on the cob. At this point, the outer husks of the corn are dried out and brown. The cobs can then be removed from the stalks by twisting and pulling down the husks in one fluid motion.
You can keep the inner layer of the husk for decoration purposes or remove them entirely, depending on what you are planning on doing with the corn. To fully dry the kernels out, you can spread the cobs on drying racks and turn them in the sun to ensure an even drying.
These dried kernels can be stored for years, used for food processing, or further plantation. As stated, the kernels are most famous for their ornamental use, for which people keep them on the cob for various forms of display or experiment with cross-breeding, which is always a delight for plant enthusiasts.