This spring I was lucky enough to get my hands on some “Glass Gem” corn seeds. Glass Gem is not a sweet corn. It’s an incredibly beautiful heirloom flint, or popcorn, and it’s quite a phenomenon in the gardening world, spurred on by photos like this that have been circulating online for a couple of years. You can read more about it here.
Everyone was nuts to get some Glass Gem seeds, but they became available only this year from Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit that works to conserve seed from plants of genetic and cultural importance.
I first discovered Native Seeds when I lived within walking distance of their retail store on Fourth Avenue in Tucson. It was one of my favorite shops in the city, filled with Native crafts and, of course, unusual seeds. One year I bought my dad a bunch of hot chile pepper seeds and sent them home to Virginia, where he planted a giant chile garden. For years my parents had hot peppers languishing in the freezer from that massive experiment.
I was on a waiting list for more than a year until I got an e-mail this spring saying I could purchase one packet of Glass Gem seeds. Which I did, immediately. People are so nuts to get this corn that I’ve seen online auctions and stores selling each seed for a dollar or more, which is crazy because it’s still for sale on the Native Seeds Web site. It’s also nuts because corn is wind-pollinated, which means you need a pretty sizable stand (at least 40 plants) in order for cobs to set, unless you want to hand-pollinate.
I received 65 kernels in my allotted packet of seeds. I have never grown corn before, so this experiment has required quite a bit of research as well as some garden plan drawings before I could start. And then I had to wait for the soil to warm up…
On May 11, I marked out the placement for each kernel using sophisticated measuring apparatus. Don’t laugh. It worked. I planted seeds one foot from each other in both directions, creating the suggested “block” configuration that helps insure pollination.
Glass Gem corn, ready to go in the ground. We had some nice rains in May and after about a week the corn germinated. Sixty-three of the sixty-five planted kernels came up, which is a pretty amazing germination rate: 97%!
I’d like to take a moment now for some soil appreciation. The darker soil, above on the right, is what most of my vegetable garden looks like now, after three years of concerted effort to build soil tilth and fertility through sheet mulching, composting in place, running chickens in the garden, and adding homemade compost at regular intervals. The red clay blob is the native soil, dug from just a foot away at the edge of the garden. Quite a difference, huh?! I know it’s nuts to be proud of your soil, but that photo above represents countless hours of my life spent in research and hard physical labor, so it’s wonderful to see such an obvious improvement.
The corn is now about eight inches tall and this week’s heat wave (highs above 90 degrees) has had a noticeable effect. Corn loves heat, and just as I’ve heard in gardening folklore, you can watch it grow.
Many other bloggers are growing Glass Gem and writing about it, so it will be interesting to compare experiences. Some gardeners are really coddling their Glass Gem, but coddling isn’t really my gardening style and I am prepared to accept failure with this experiment. It’s a big risk as I devoted a relatively large section of my too-small garden to this corn, but I figured I had to at least give it a shot! We’ll see what happens!