Everyone is always on the lookout for the next big thing, and glass gem corn has seen a huge popularity burst recently. It almost looks like someone photoshopped it, but they’re real. Also, they’re easy to grow in your garden, and the seeds are readily available to buy online and in some stores.
Harvesting your corn is usually the first sign that autumn is on the way. You know when you start seeing colorful dried corn for sale that summer is ending and fall is right around the corner. There’s something very comforting and warm about glass gem corn when the weather takes on that telltale chill and the leaves start to turn colors and fall.
You can easily dry your glass gem corn and use it as decorations, cooked into a nice hominy, popped as popcorn, and ground as a brightly-colored cornmeal. We’re going to outline all you need to do to get this beautiful corn in your own garden this year.
Glass gem corn was an internet sensation a few years ago for the vibrant colors it has, and it’s surprisingly easy to grow.
Glass Gem Corn – A Brief History
The bright colors the glass gem corn displays are usually what first pulls people in, but the history also inspires people. In order to see the full value of glass gem corn, you have to learn more about where it originated from.
The indigenous people of the Americas, ranging from the Great Lakes to South America, had corn as a staple part of their diets for years before the 1800s. They knew of a huge range of corn types, and they used sustainable, traditional practices to grow them. It is widely believed that corn was originally domesticated in Mexico, and it is one of the oldest agricultural crops in the world. Different tribal groups worked to create different strains of corn, and it had strong ties to the tribe’s self-identity and heritage.
Over time, the European settlement relocated and disenfranchised the tribes, and they lost some of the ancestral corn strains. During the 20th Century, Carl Barns, an Oklahoma farmer, set out to recreate the older corn types as a way to tie back to his Cherokee heritage. By growing older varieties, he was able to isolate the ancestral strains that were originally lost when the tribes were relocated to Oklahoma. He started to exchange these seeds with people all over the country.
He was also able to connect to elders from different tribes with traditional, specific corn strains, and this helped the tribes reclaim their spiritual and cultural identities. He was given the spiritual name of White Eagle for his efforts. At this time, he started picking seeds from the most colorful corn varieties, and this selective breeding led to rainbow-colored corn.
In 1994, he met a fellow farmer named Greg Shoen, and he was shocked at the rainbow coloring the corn had. Barnes gave him some of the seeds the following year and he sowed them. The two stayed close and he got more seed samples over the years. Schoen relocated to Mexico during 1999, and he grew small amounts of the colorful corn until 2005 when he started growing bigger plots around Santa Fe.
He crossed the rainbow corn with other strains to create new types of corn. Over time, he was able to figure out how to make it more vivid and vibrant. Glass Gem Corn was the name he gave to the stunning pink-purple and blue-green corn he first grew in 2007. This was the image that went viral in 2012 and shot this corn’s popularity sky high.
Planting Glass Gem Corn
To plant your own glass gem corn, you want to wait until the spring months. Corn is very prone to having issues with frost, and it can kill the seeds very early on. The soil needs to be a minimum of 60°F (16°C) before you attempt to plant the glass gem corn or you’ll get a disappointing crop.
You can buy a soil thermometer at the local greenhouse or online to check and monitor the soil’s temperature. Dig a five to six-inch hole in the soil using your garden tools and insert the thermometer. Look at the instructions to see how long you should leave it in the ground to get an accurate reading. Different thermometers can have special recommendations or instructions, so read carefully before you use it.
Pick a sunny location to grow your glass gem corn. It thrives in sunnerier areas that have slight protection from the wind. If you have an area like a valley in the yard that gets a lot of sun, this could be a great location. Corn needs wind protection to survive due to the thinner, tall stalks. If you have an area with trees surrounding it, plant the corn here. Trees work well as a natural windbreak and protect your glass gem corn.
Try to plant your seeds in three by three inch blocks. Glass gem corn shouldn’t get planted in rows, and it does best in blocks that are three feet by three feet. Make sure the space you pick out has enough room for all of your plants. When you put the seeds in the soil, you should plant them an inch into the ground.
Space your seeds a foot apart, and don’t plant them right on top of one another. Corn requires space to grow, and putting them any closer together will impact the glass gem corn’s ability to grow and pollinate.
It’s essential that you start your glass gem corn out with the best chances possible since it’s not a heavy germinating cultivar, and this means setting up the best environment possible.
Growing Glass Gem Corn
As the glass gem corn starts to grow, you want to thin the plants out. Not every seedling will be able to grow into a full stalk, and it should start germinating in 7 to 10 days. Even if you plant the seeds a foot apart, some may grow far too close together. Generally speaking, you want to aim for one stalk of corn per foot. You will have to remove any seedlings that surpass this mark.
However, you don’t have to uproot the seedlings. Instead, you can cut off unwanted seeds at the soil level. It doesn’t matter which ones you choose. But, if one seedling starts to grow faster and bigger than another, it can make sense to cut the shorter and weaker seedling over the bigger one.
Wind is a huge problem for the corn, and it can negatively impact the growth. In order to encourage strong growth on your glass gem corn, take measures to block the wind. Consider investing in windbreaks as these are six foot tall fences that protect the stalks as they grow. If your corn isn’t planted by trees or a fence, you’ll need to have windbreaks installed. They should allow for some airflow while diffusing stronger gusts. You could also install a lattice fence as it has small holes to allow wind to travel through.
Every week, give your glass gem corn an inch or two of water, and keep in mind that corn doesn’t need a whole lot to be happy. Don’t give it more than an inch of water a week. You want to sprinkle roughly an inch deep into the ground when you notice that it’s drying out. Apply your water at the surface using a soaker hose, and never water your corn from above as this can remove the pollen from the flowering stalks.
When the corn stalks reach a foot tall, apply a fish-based fertilizer. You can get it from your local greenhouse or nursery, pay close attention to the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus levels on the bag. You’ll find it listed as N-P-K right on the bag as a series of numbers.
For example, any fertilizer that has an equal amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will have a 10-10-10 ratio on the bag. Corn needs a high amount of nitrogen, so pick a fertilizer that has the first number higher or equal to the second and third number. Apply it by sprinkling it evenly over the soil that surrounds your glass gem corn. For every 100 square feet of corn, you want to use four or five pounds of fertilizer.
Using the Three Sisters Planting Technique
One of the most traditional types of companion planting is using the three sisters technique. This technique involves using complementary plants that all contribute to the success and growth of other plants. This method always uses three core plants, squash, beans, and corn. All of these plants work to support the other throughout the growing season.
Beans have to be able to climb in order to get enough sun to produce the crop. The beans will climb up the corn and wrap around the stalks to move upwards to reach the sun. The benas give back to the glass gem corn because they’re a nitrogen-fixing plant to have in your garden. Beans add nitrogen back into the soil at the root level, and this helps to feed the corn plants.
When you use the three sisters gardening technique, you always want to use pole beans instead of bush beans. Pole beans climb, and bush beans stand by themselves, but they take up much more space.
The glass gem corn will give the support system for the two other plants in this configuration. Corn grows strong, fast, and tall. All of the crannies and nooks on the stalks give the perfect support system for the twirling vines of the pole beans to climb up and reach the sun. Glass gem corn, flour corn, and flint corn all work well for this gardening technique because you harvest them at the end of the growing season.
The broad, big leaves of the squash plant give enough shade to cover the soil under the plants. In turn, this stops weeds from taking off and competing with your glass gem corn, and it helps to keep the soil moist to hydrate all of the plants. The squash will deter insects or animals due to the spiny leaves and vines. Any type of squash will work well in this garden, including summer, pumpkin, butternut, or acorn squash.
You will have to keep an eye on this companion planting setup to ensure that the squash doesn’t try to climb the corn stalks too as they’re far too heavy for the glass gem corn to support.
Planting a Three Sisters Garden
If you want to use the three sisters garden method to grow your glass gem corn, this is a relatively straightforward process. We’ll outline it below for you.
- Make sure that the frost danger has passed for the planting zone before you start anything. All three of these crops will die if the temperatures die below freezing.
- Pick a planting site that gets six or more hours of sun every day, and the soil should be full of organic matter and rich. Due to the fact that glass gem corn uses wind pollination, it’s helpful to create several mounds that are five feet apart to encourage the corn to pollinate.
- Till the soil and rake it into a mound that is 18 inches in diameter and 6 to 10 inches tall. Rake the top of your mound until it’s flat. If you have compost, now is the time to mix it in.
- Plant four to six glass gem corn seeds in a circle in the center of your mound, being mindful of the spacing. Plant them roughly six inches from the center of the mound. Keep it weeded and watered while the corn starts to germinate and grow.
- Once the glass gem corn reaches six inches tall, you will plant the beans in a circle around the corn. Place them roughly six inches from the corn sprouts.
- One week after you plant your beans, it’s time to plant the squash seeds. You’ll place the seeds on the outside of the mound in a circle.
- Keep the area watered and weeded until the squash leaves come in to provide ground cover.
- Once your beans start to vine, you want to encourage them to climb up your glass gem corn by moving the vines right next to the stalks. If you planted a vining squash, you’ll need to keep it away from the corn so it doesn’t try to climb the stalks too.
Harvesting Glass Gem Corn
When you think the glass gem corn is ready to harvest, take an ear of corn and remove a kernel. Pierce it and look for a milky liquid. You should also make sure that the ears of corn are ready to remove from the stalks before you harvest them. Three weeks before the corn looks silky, you want to peel back a small portion of the corn husk. Gently prick a kernel or glass gem corn and look for the liquid. If you see a milky liquid, it’s ready to go.
Harvest your corn right before you want to use it. If possible, only harvest it a short time before you use it. This way, your glass gem corn will be at the sweetest and freshest when you prepare and eat it. However, if you want corn that isn’t as sweet, you can wait until two days before the corn is fully ripe to harvest it. If you’re planning on using your glass gem corn for decorations, you can pick it as soon as it ripens.
Twist the corn off the stalk. To do this, all you have to do is grab onto one ear of corn and twist it while you move your hand downward. This should break it cleanly from the stalk. Look for any bugs or pests before you bring it inside.
Inspect your glass gem corn for any damage. Not all of the corn you harvest will be safe to eat or use as a decoration. Once you harvest the ripe ears, you want to take a close look at each of them. Peel back the husks. If you see corn that is rotting, bruises, or duller in color, you want to discard it. Some ears can also be very stubby and small, and they may not be worth using or decorating with because they have so few kernels.
You want your corn to be ready to harvest before you start picking it to ensure that it looks the best and brightest it possibly can.
Using Glass Gem Corn
You can use your glass gem corn as a decoration for your home. However, if you want to keep these heritage varieties alive and maintain your crop diversity in your vegetable garden, you should set some seeds aside each year and grow them in your garden the following spring.
By picking out the most vibrant colors on the kernels in the shades you want, you can easily selectively breed new versions of glass gem corn on your own. It’s also possible to create new strains to take and use the next year.
This is a corn type that you most likely won’t eat fresh. However, you can process it and use it in several ways. Commonly, this corn gets used for popcorn. Once they pop, you’ll only see the white coloring with tiny specks of the former coloring. You can experiment to create savory or sweet types of popcorn with your glass gem corn kernels.
It’s also possible to blend the corn to get cornmeal. You can store your freshly blended cornmeal in a sealed container in your refrigerator for up to a year. Cornmeal works wonderfully as the base for dozens of different baked goods. If you treat your glass gem corn with alkaline, you can make hominy, and hominy is the key ingredient in grits.
Glass gem corn is a very popular corn type to add to gardens throughout the United States due to the bright coloring. Even though you usually won’t eat it fresh, you can use it in dozens of different ways to make it well worth the effort of growing it.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.