Glass Gem corn is one of nature’s miracles, and it’s super easy to grow! Learn where to buy and how to grow rainbow corn in your garden!
The first time I saw a picture of Glass Gem corn was in an online seed catalog last year. I was searching for sweet corn seeds, as I was keen to grow some ears that I could actually eat. My two previous attempts at corn – one lot from small plants I bought from Home Depot and the next lot from seed – resulted in dinky little ears with deformed and lumpish kernels sprouting haphazardly around the cob. They looked like little mouthfuls of crooked yellow teeth in dire need of both a dentist and an orthodontist. But, hey, I’m no snob when it comes to how food looks! As long as it tastes good, it can look like Quasimodo’s butt, for all I care.
But this corn…
This corn didn’t just look like Quasimodo’s butt…it tasted like it too!*
My wife and son loved it.
The corn, I mean. Not Quasimodo’s butt.
To them, it tasted like the corn from their native Turkey. It tasted like home. They slathered it in butter and gobbled every bite.
I tried that Turkish corn once.
My wife Handan’s hometown of Izmir is a jewel of a city that encircles a bay of the Aegean Sea. Every night in summer, you can find thousands of Turks strolling along the water’s edge or relaxing in the seaside parks. Vendors of all sorts sell everything from rice-stuffed mussels to sunflower seeds to cotton candy to corn-on-the-cob.
I watched those corn-hawkers with a keen eye. I love corn, and the way they roasted it over an open fire on their rolling corn carts captivated my senses and got my mouth watering.
One night, I asked Handan if we could try it.
She was more than happy to oblige, since she loves corn, too.
We approached the man and ordered two ears – one for Handan and me and one for my son Baris. I watched him grill our cobs as a child watches a candymaker. Oh, I couldn’t wait! Grilled corn is the best!
He served our cobs on a bed of husks, and I had that thing in my mouth almost before he could remove his hand to safety. Oh boy, this is gonna be great! I bit down and…
And all the joy I’ve ever known leapt from body and dove into the Aegean Sea.
What the hell is this thing?
I peered at the impostor in my hand.
Where’s the sweet? This isn’t corn…this is horse food!
I chewed the…what? Fodder? Cud? Slop? I managed to get it down into my throat en route to my stomach. I looked at the traitorous cob once more and handed it to Handan.
“Here you go, my babes. You can finish it.”
She grabbed it from me and bit in with gusto.
I dropped to my knees and looked up into the sky. I threw my hands into the air and screamed at the heavens.
But the Turks were too busy cramming those mirthless kernels into their mouths to notice my suffering.
Handan and Barish were in heaven, each bite better than the last for them.
Fools! Didn’t they understand that corn was supposed to be as sweet as candy?
Never have my expectations been so thoroughly smashed and shattered by reality.
It was one of the many times I learned that life in the rest of the great wide world was wildly different than life in Glastonbury, Connecticut – home of the sweetest corn on planet Earth.**
Oh, by the way, though I’m not a fan of Turkish eating corn, their popcorn is the best I’ve ever tasted! We stock up on it whenever we hit up a Turkish grocery.
Anyway, as I was browsing through the corn seeds online, I came across a picture that couldn’t be real. It seemed to be an ear of corn, but it looked like a rainbow!
I was mesmerized, so I clicked on the link for more information. The corn was called Glass Gem, also known as Rainbow Corn and it certainly did look like a rainbow on a cob! I had to try to grow it – I still didn’t really believe I could get corn like the ones pictured, but I had to try! I ordered a small packet of seeds. Oh boy, this is gonna be great!
The Story of Glass Gem Corn
While I waited for my seeds, I did a little research on the corn. Turns out that Glass Gem corn is all OMG and no GMO! This is not the product of a mad scientist or rogue unicorn. Rather, it was developed over a number of years by a part-Cherokee farmer in Oklahoma named Carl Barnes.
Carl “White Eagle” wanted to reconnect with his roots and heritage, so he began seeking out older corn varieties and native seeds, like the ones his Native American ancestors would have grown. When growing the ancient corn seed, sometimes he’d get an abnormally colorful ear. He would then select and replant the seeds from those ears.
Over time, the corn became more and more colorful. He eventually gave some seeds to a a friend who planted them in New Mexico alongside more traditional varieties of corn, and this created even more colorful strains.
His friend started selling the seeds to the public, and the rest is rainbow corn history.
How to Grow Glass Gem Corn
The best part about planting Glass Gem corn seeds is you don’t know what you’re going to get come harvest!
And it couldn’t be simpler to grow. I’m a casual gardener, so I treated the rainbow corn seeds as I would anything else I stick in my garden soil. I didn’t fuss over them or do anything special.
Since I only had a small handful of seeds and the back half of a raised bed, I planted my seeds in pairs 12 inches apart. Normally you’d want to leave 2 feet between rows, but I was tight for space, so I only left a foot. I planted each seed about an inch deep in mid-spring when the world was warm and soil temperatures were over 60 degrees. It’s best to sow seeds in several rows to ensure good pollination. Wind is the primary pollinator, so you don’t want to plant your corn in a single row.
And remember, corn loves sun and lots of it!
From here, you can mulch to keep weeds at bay and fertilize as needed. Once the pairs grow to about 4 inches tall, select the stronger of the two.
The glass gem corn grew like the yellow corn I had planted in previous years, though these seem a bit taller.
When to Harvest Glass Gem Corn
Rainbow will be ready to harvest about 110 to 120 days after planting. Unfortunately, my growing season was cut a little short by some stalks turning brown. Like I said before, I’m first and foremost a DIYer, not a gardener, so instead of freaking out, I just decided to harvest a little early.
Figuring these brown ones for a loss, I pulled them off and shucked them. What I saw blew my mind! I honestly didn’t think it would work – at least not as well as in the pictures. But it was even better than I could have hoped. I didn’t know whether I should eat it, frame it, or string it up and hang it from Handan’s neck!
I decided to harvest almost all of it – I didn’t want to risk losing any ears to infection or to the birds! There were some nice green ears, too.
Every ear was a surprise!
Look at these gorgeous colorful cobs!
Is Glass Gem Corn Edible?
Rainbow corn is not meant to be eaten like regular corn, though it won’t hurt you to do so. It’s what is called flint corn, and its primary purpose would normally be for cornmeal, livestock or (for certain varieties with a high-enough moisture content) popcorn. But with looks like these, we’ll be using them for decor around the house this fall!
How to Dry Glass Gem Corn
I’m sure there are many ways to dry rainbow corn for ornamental uses, but all I did was shuck the corn (keeping the leaves and long stem attached) and then group them by 5s or 6s, tie a string around the stems and then hang them in the basement where it’s cool and dry. Cool and dry is the key, especially dry. If you have cool, dry late summers with good air flow, feel free to hang them near a window or screen door. Just don’t let them get wet. They’re ready for ornamental use when the kernels are hard as flint, and you’re not able to sink a fingernail into them.
Where to Buy Rainbow Corn seeds
The seeds I bought cost me $5 for a very small quantity. Amazon has a better deal – $6 for 100 seeds. I’ll be buying those seeds this fall for next year’s planting. Though you can pay more in specialty seed catalogs, for the casual gardener, it’s easier and cheaper to buy through Amazon.
Final Thoughts on Rainbow Corn
I’m not the best farmer, but growing my Glass Gem corn was a breeze. I stuck the kernels in the ground, watered the plants regularly (but not excessively), and basically did nothing. Corn is as easy as garlic to grow, and next year I’ll be growing way more of each!
Growing garlic is one of life’s simple pleasures. It can easily be grown by gardeners of any skill level, and the harvest can be enjoyed throughout the year. Give garlic a try. You’ll be happy you did!
If unicorns had gardens, they’d grow Glass Gem corn. Also, I’m pretty sure unicorn poop looks like this, too.
Have you guys seen Glass Gem corn before? Has anyone planted it?
Let me know in the comments!
*Quasimodo’s butt was neither tasted nor harmed for this article.
**I haven’t yet tasted all the corn on planet Earth, but I stand by my claim.
Edit 2022: we live in Florida now, and there’s some mighty fine and super-sweet corn here, too, so I take back my previous brag. I’m sure there’s great corn in every corner of this great nation.