Very few vegetables can claim to be an internet sensation but there is one, a mixture of heritage corn bred by Oklahoma based, part Cherokee farmer Carl Barnes. Carl, who died in 2016, was a collector of traditional corn varieties and crossed coloured corns again and again to make a spectacular multi coloured flint (pop) corn.
Carl passed seeds to Greg Schoen in 1995 who developed them a little further and having shared a photo of the corn in 2007 entitled “Glass Gems”, the name stuck. Greg in turn passed some to seedsman Bill McDorman. Bill joined Native seeds/SEARCH and when photos of the corn went online in 2012, the rest as they say is history.
In the kitchen
Glass gem is a popping corn however I have to say I did not have much success popping it. If you do manage to pop it expect small nuggets, not the massive cinema bundles you get. Due to my lack of sucess popping it I did grind a little in my nutribullet to make cornmeal for tortilla which was fun although as the colour is mainly on the outside the cornmeal itself is normal coloured with a few colourful flecks. If you want to grind a lot of your own corn then having a dedicated seed blender (In the UK it is most likely to be a coffee blender like this) would be a good idea as it will gradually dull your blades and tear up the insides of a normal food blender.
If you dont want to cook with it then the cobs are very variable with yellows, blues, pinks and green common but also some which were predominately red/brown make very good house ornaments and birds loved them!
Yield and Plant Health
Although the plants were very healthy, this is a heritage variety with lower yields than a modern popping or animal maize variety. I am growing in a part of the UK which is technically zone 8, although zones dont work quite so well for us due to the mid-atlantic drift keeping the UK warm in the winter even though our summers are pretty cool and often wet. I was getting one small cob per plant which meant from the 16 plants that I grew I harvested around 400g of corn. Don’t be put off by this though, growers in warmer sunnier climates should have more success.
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Maize is from Mexico and is used to much hotter climates than the UK. It is not frost hardy and also does not like root disturbance so it is important you do not start too early or else risk your plants turning up their toes!
Maize is wind pollinated. The spikes at the top of the plant pollinate the tassels on the cobs which are situated lower down. Each tassel leads to a kernel and each one needs to be pollinated for a full cob. Because of this it is better to plant maize in blocks rather than rows to maximise pollination so when choosing how many kernels to sow, think about how it will fit in to a block. You will get roughly 70-80 % successful germination.
Maize needs a sunny sheltered spot with free draining but nutrient rich soil. In winter give the spot where they are to grow a mulch of compost or manure and then dress with blood fish and bone meal in spring.
If you are happy to protect your outdoor crops from frost then sow one block, a month before your last frost date which in the UK usually means making a mid April to early May sowing. Sow one kernal, 2 inches deep in root trainers or a 3 inch pots. Water and keep in a warm place like a heated propagator or airing cupboard until germination occurs which should be in 7-10 days. Ensure the compost is moist but not soggy. Once germination has taken place then move to a sunny but frost free spot until plants are around two inches high. For maize you want to have the longest growing season possible to allow the plants time to mature and dry as much as possible on the plant. Therefore sow early and do not do successional sowing like you would for sweetcorn.
Start to harden off by placing outside during the day in a sheltered spot and bringing back in at night. Continue this for a week.
Once plants are roughly 3 inches high then you can plant out in blocks, each sweetcorn 20-30 cm apart. Water well for the first week until they are established and then generously once a week. If there is any risk of frost or windy weather, cover with fleece, lifted off the the growing corn with hoops or sticks.
Your maize will be ready when the plants start to die back in late Autumn which will be at least 150 days after planting.. Bring in when it has been dry for several days and before the first frosts.