Carl Barnes was half-Cherokee and, as a way of connecting with his Native American heritage, he began collecting seeds. Throughout the years Native Americans gave him ancestral types of corn that had been lost when the Tribes were brought to Oklahoma in the 1800s. Fascinated by the colors found in some of these Indian Corns, he began to select, save, and replant seeds from especially colorful cobs. Over time this resulted in a rainbow colored corn.
A fellow farmer, Greg Schoen, met Barnes at a Native Seed gathering in 1994. Schoen and Barnes became close friends and many seed exchanges took place between them. When Schoen moved to Sante Fe, he crossed some of Barnes’ seeds with traditional varieties, and even more vibrant colors and patterns were produced. According to Schoen, Glass Gem corn came from a crossing of Pawnee miniature popcorns with an Osange red flour corn and also another Osage corn called Greyhorse.
In 2009 Schoen passed some of the seed to Bill McDorman who owned a company called Seed Trust. McDorman is now the executive director of Native Seed/Search and started offering the seeds on line. Within a short time, Barnes “rainbow colored” corn became an internet hit and even has its own Facebook page. today many different seed companies carry Glass Gem corn.
In Dallas corn is usually planted from March 23- April. It does best in fertile, well-drained soil, and is a heavy nitrogen feeder during the vegetative state. Waiting to let the soil warm thoroughly is important for seed germination as is sufficient watering. Corn is wind pollinated and it is recommended to plant in blocks of at least four rows. To prevent cross pollination from other varieties, you can separate different varieties by time (plant at least 10 days apart) or distance (200 feet.)
Though there seems to be some inconsistency in how to classify different corn types, in general there seems to be four major types of corn: sweet, flint, dent, and flour. Sweet corn is what we eat on the cob or it can be canned or frozen. It contains more sugar than other types. Flint corn, also known as Indian Corn, has a hard outer shell and comes in a wide range of colors. Dent corn, also known as Field Corn, is most often used for animal feed and to make different industrial products. Dent corn is named for the dimple that forms in the middle of the kernel. It accounts for 99% of all corn production in the United States. Flour corn has soft kernels which makes it easy to grind. Popcorn is actually a type of flint corn. It has a hard outer shell over a soft starchy content. When popcorn is heated the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode.
To use Glass Gem Corn as a popcorn, it is recommended to let the kernels dry out thoroughly. In fact, one review said it took nearly a year before it was ready to be popped. The resulting popcorn is white rather than colored as it is only that hard outer layer that contains the color.
It is possible to save seed and try to propagate your own color combinations. For example, if you wanted mostly blue corn, you could save seeds from cobs that were mostly blue. However, it is the glow of a rainbow of colors that makes Glass Gem Corn so unique.
If you want to try something different in your vegetable garden next year, try Glass Gem Corn—and have your own Christmas in July.