That was the question I got earlier this year from a colleague who said it was totally useless to grow what he called: ‘ornamental multi colored fake corn’.
I had just planted glass gem corn seeds in my garden and was soooo excited about the beautiful colored corn I was hoping to get in the fall. So, being ecstatic I could’t stop chatting away about it during my lunch break in the vineyard. You can maybe picture the setting of an ex city slicker sitting in a vineyard surrounded by traditional French farming people trying to convince them growing rainbow corn is not actually an entirely insane act.
Now, that made me want to write an explaining blog post about growing Glass Gem corn, because yes it is beautiful, and YES it is edible!
A little Glass Gem Corn history
How did this all come about you ask? Corn originates from Central America where it was developed from a wild grass variety called Teosinte. This plant went through an enormous evolution over a time period of thousands of years to eventually become the corn or maize we know today. Through selective replanting techniques, the Native American people cultivated different varieties of maize in different colors. Slowly throughout the years the native multi colored corn became less popular, totally overshadowed by the yellow juicy sweetcorn. Also, because native people lost their land and where restricted to reservations where there was little fertile land to grow corn on. Thanks to a very passionate corn farmer named Carl Barnes, who was part Cherokee, Glass Gem corn was reintroduced and saved. Thanks to this extraordinary passionate man, who reconnected with the way his ancestors farmed, the native rainbow corn became available to the greater public. Since 2012 people all over the world buy Glass Gem seeds and plant them! If you would like to read more about the story of Carl Barnes, please visit:
This image below shows in a nutshell how Teosinte evolved in the modern day corn.
Photo: croplife international
Corn was unknown in Europe until the first pioneers came to the Americas. It’s then that Europeans learned from the Native people how to grow it and what to do with it.
Glass Gem corn comes in a lot of different varieties and is a flint corn, in other words a much harder corn than the soft corn we usually eat right off the Cobb. Traditionally this corn was dried and stored to grind into corn meal or flower (to make tortillas for example) and to use as popcorn. With the husks, the indigenous people made many things such as bed and foot mats, moccasins, baskets and of course the better known corn husk dolls. Please do check out Pinterest for great corn husk doll inspiration if you are interested in making these!
Lovely corn husk doll by Martha Boers, Antique Lilac.com
Planting Glass Gem Corn
Glass Gem was the first corn I ever planted and I can only say it was really easy. I planted the seeds in pots first and transferred them to the garden when the ground was already warming up mid April. It’s important to wait until the chance of frost has entirely gone. Plant them in short rows together in a square, this helps pollination.
In the video below you can see how to plant and grow Glass Gem and, for those of you interested; whether rainbow corn keeps its color when you pop it! Brilliantly explained by the lovely folks at Self Sufficient Me:
Types of Rainbow Corn
Because I really enjoyed harvesting this year, I am already thinking about planting in the springtime of 2021. Amazed at the colors I was wondering if there are even more different color varieties available. And YES there are! I will give you a small list of other available colored corn:
- Hopi Blue Dent
- Cherokee White Eagle
- Painted Mountain
- Black Aztek
- Red Aztek
- Cutie Blues
- Hopi Pink Flower Corn
With a little research on the internet you will be able to find all these varieties of seeds, I have also seen them for sale on Ebay.
To make sure its original non GMO heirloom seed though, you could buy straight from genuine native people on websites like NativeSeeds.org.
To buy directly from the ‘source’ so to speak is a really good thing to do as most of the native people are preserving and sharing heirloom seeds without a big profit in mind but believe in the principle of making it possible for people all over the world to plant and harvest this unique and beautiful treasure that has such a rich history.
I am very lucky to have a sister living in Arizona, USA. So she was so nice to send me original heirloom seeds. (Big thank you sis!). You can also visit the The Plantscapades Seedswap Group on Facebook where I am swapping this years’ harvested seeds. This is for people living in Europe who can’t participate in the US seed swap groups.
I hope you will acquire some of these seeds and plant them and hopefully you will also be mesmerized the moment its harvest time and you open the husks to discover a magical bundle of colored gems that have been forming all summer.
Oh and; if you are wondering, my colleagues are now convinced they have to plant Glass Gem seeds too, after I stunned them with giving them all a few cobs to make popcorn with or to plant. Take a look at these little miracles I was lucky enough to harvest this year.
What do you think of these?
I won’t bore you with the 55 other photographs I took, got carried away completely as I could’t get enough of all the amazing colors. We tried popping the kernels last night and that resulted in a delicious batch of crunchy, very nutty flavored wonderful popcorn. The colors disappeared though!
Try planting this treasure for yourself, you won’t be disappointed! Also, a very fun project for children in the garden.
Happy planting it forward!
-Native American Technology and Art