Corn has always been important in my life. After all, I grew up in Nebraska and continue to identify myself as a Cornhusker, even though I moved away and never attended the University of Nebraska. I have vivid memories of my dad teaching us how to eat corn on the cob, rolling the warm ear right onto a full stick of butter. We still enjoy watching him consume corn with his butter. Lately I haven’t eaten as much corn as I used to, although it’s really hard to pass up a bowl salsa with fresh corn tortilla chips. Corn is a part of my heritage.
A few years back, soon after we moved into our neighborhood and decided to make our whole back yard a garden, our neighbor popped his head in through the gate. I try to plant at least a bit of corn each summer and he noticed the stalks pressing skyward. Somewhat in disbelief, he exclaimed, “This is a science yard!” I chuckled at the time and often recall his statement. Yes, it’s a science yard. I like to experiment with all kinds of heirloom plants and seeds. I find it interesting how much the garden varies from year to year. Some years a variety will do really well and the next year, nothing. This year’s experiment was my most rewarding success so far.
In 2012 I stumbled across a photo of glass gem corn (for a detailed history of glass gem corn, check out this article: http://www.nativeseeds.org/community/199-the-story-of-glass-gem-corn-beauty-history-and-hope). I was so taken by this corn that I tried to place an order. It was a year before I could actually purchase it. I paid $7.95 for a pack with fifty multi-colored kernels, then had to wait another six months for the right planting season. When I finally did plant the seeds, I kept an eye on them vigilance I generally reserve for children. They spent their first few weeks protected under wax cones to keep the birds off. Once the shoots were too tall for birds to extract from the soil, I introduced them to the sunlight. They thrived. For several months the stalks huddled together in a section of the garden, a luscious green and looking mighty healthy. Still, my last few crops of corn weren’t that productive, so my expectations were low.
When it came time to harvest, each ear sheathed in a faded dry husk, I was astonished. Unwrapping the ears one by one, my eyes could barely believe what I held in my hand. Each ear was so unique, many of them fully developed, and filled with colors ranging from purples, to yellows, lavenders, pinks, and even some indigo kernels. All translucent. Several people I’ve talked to about the glass gems have asked if they are edible. I’ve heard they are, like popcorn. However, they are so stunningly beautiful I will not be eating them. Butter or not, the only thing feasting on my glass gems with be admiring eyes. I have lots, so let me know if you’d like me to share.