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Christmas in July

      What fun! It isn’t very often in the hot summer months that a gardener gets to “unwrap”  a  rainbow of corn.  However if you grow Glass Gem Popcorn, each ear holds the excitement of different colors and combination of colors.  Shucking them is like Christmas in July.

Glass Gem Corn Grown by Carolyn

Pictures of Glass Gem Corn have gone viral on the internet—and for good reason.  Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds calls it “The Worlds Most Beautiful Corn!”  Bakers Creek’s description of it says: “105 days. Amazing color! Indescribably beautiful flint or popcorn in an endless range of colors.  Translucent kernels really do shine brilliantly like glass – on the cob they resemble strands of glass beads!  The 3”-8” ears are consummately decorative, but edible and delicious as well.  Makes firm little morsels when popped, and can also be parched, ground into meal, and more.  Sturdy plants reach to 9’ in height and throw numerous sideshoots where the season is long enough.  Bred from a number of Native varieties by Carl “White Eagle” Barnes, the famous Cherokee corn collector to whom we owe our gratitude for his life’s work of collecting, preserving and sharing so many native corn varieties.” 

     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.

Carolyn Bush



About Dallas Garden Buzz

Dallas County Master Gardeners growing and sharing from The Raincatcher's Garden.

3 responses »

  1. Delightful!!! I was just reading about this variety and wondering if I could plant it for the fall. Looks beautiful! I planted “incredible” variety for the spring. It is sooooo good. But I have a lot of problems with borers and earworms. Did you as well? Also I was reading that tightly husked corn has more resistance to these worms, but I haven’t found a source that actually says which varieties these are.

    • I am going to get Carolyn to answer. Thanks for writing!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words on the blog article about Glass Gem corn. I certainly would try to grow it for fall, if you are in an area that can grow fall corn. If not, you may want to wait until next spring. From my reading, if you plant the Glass Gem corn at least ten days after you plant your sweet corn, theoretically they should not cross-pollinate.
      I am certainly no corn expert, but I did find a few answers to your question about tightly husked corn being more resistant to corn borers and worms. However, like you, I did not find any specific varieties mentioned. The following is from Aggie Horticulture’s Vegetable Page/Parson’s Archives Home:
      Q. I planted corn in my garden this fall and it turned out beautifully, but the worms ate more corn than my family. What can I do to prevent this?
      A. Spray or dust the ear silks with Sevin (carbaryl) to prevent adult insects from entering and laying eggs. Begin dusting and spraying at an early stage and repeat every two days. Some gardeners apply a drop of mineral oil or use a Bt insecticide on the silks to prevent earworm damage.
      Q. Are there any earworm resistant varieties of sweet corn available?
      A. No. Some varieties seem to be bothered less by corn earworms than others, however, none are truly resistant. In general, the higher quality and sweet corn is more likely to be bothered by earworms. Varieties of sweet corn which have a tight shuck near the silk end seem to be bothered less by earworms than those that have loose and open ends.
      Q. Could sex be the answer to worm-free corn?
      A. You bet. You corn-eating worms had better watch your sexual habits; they could lead to your demise!
      ARS scientists are working on a new technology which they hope will allow growers to control Helicoverpa zea (the corn earworm, tomato fruitworm and cotton bollworm) with fewer chemicals than currently used. The scientists are hoping to capitalize on a peculiar habit of the adult female H. zea: she feeds the first night after she emerges and postpones mating until the second night. If what it is that attracts the moths to certain flowers can be determined, then perhaps the food can be laced with pesticides and thus kill the females before they have a chance to mate.
      So now the trick is to reproduce the plant’s flower scents artificially. Scientists have identified about a dozen major compounds within the floral extracts–all of them easily synthesized. But the question still remains: which of those dozen compounds is the one or ones that actually attracts the moths? Since there are thousands of possible mixtures, it may take a year or longer to discover the ideal combination. Once that has been done, the floral attractant, a feeding stimulant, and an insecticide could be impregnated in a twist tie which could be wrapped around the cornstalk or tomato vine.
      The twist tie, unlike sprayed insecticides, need never touch the ear of corn or the tomato. Yet, the insecticide would be much more effective than trying to kill caterpillars burrowed deep into a plant. Since each female is capable of laying 500 eggs, killing the females before mating would require less expensive chemicals. Finally, since moths can travel 300 miles or more in a single night, this method will stop them before they have a chance to travel, spreading crop damage.

      Another suggestion I have is to contact Baker’s Heirloom Seeds to see if they could give you any suggestions for a “tightly husked” sweet corn. I was very impressed by their promptness in getting back to me about permission to quote their descriptions and use some of their photographs in my articles. They might be a good resource, if you want to try some unusual varieties of heirloom corn from around the world.


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