A Glass Gem Corn: the colorful harvest

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Colorful glass gem corn

Each cob has its own color palette!

One of the things I enjoy about being part of the greater community of garden enthusiasts is the opportunity to meet and interact with others across the country. Last March I attended the Spring Trials – an annual event in which all the new plant introductions are displayed for growers who come from all around the world to order and propagate for future production. At that time, I had a chance to bump into a friend, Dan Heims, president at Terra Nova Nurseries (a professional breeding nursery) located in Portland, Oregon. I was with my friend Shirley Bovshow (catch her as the gardening expert on the Home and Garden Show on the Hallmark Channel for lots of handy gardening tips) when he presented us with a dozen prized kernels of corn. He explained they were very expensive — $5 each – and were the “hottest new item in the edible plant industry”. He had acquired the seeds at a seed conservation group called the Native Seeds Trust and he wanted us to test them out.

Shirley and I divided our little treasure trove in half and parted ways. I have no idea if she ever grew them since her shooting schedule for the Home and Garden show production took much of her time. But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to check out these mysterious seeds – and find out why they were so special.

The problem was how to grow them. With the extreme lack of rain in the last few years, edibles in my area have become difficult to grow due to hoards of invading wildlife suffering from drought-induced starvation. I live in an area particularly hard hit, so I needed to find help growing the corn while my new enclosed growing space was still under construction. I turned to a friend, Lillian, who had safely enclosed cages already built and fully functional. Thus began my great Glass Gem Corn experiment.

I started the seeds at my place in one gallon containers and once they were two inches high, transferred them to fifteen gallon pots in Lillian’s safe enclosure. One of the seedlings grew without any chlorophyll and could not sustain itself for long, but the other five thrived.

In the caged garden, our five plants reached five feet tall despite their limited container space. They set cobs, unmolested by rodents that certainly would have adored the toothsome treats had they been in my exposed garden. The corn needed no special treatment and Lillian handled it the same as all her other vegetables. As the silks began to dry, she was concerned about the proper time to pick the ears. She tested a small cob, slipping it into the microwave to see how it would taste and was surprised when the kernels started to pop. At that time I was not aware that this was to be expected. I needed to learn a little more about these mysterious seeds.

I contacted Dan Heims and followed all the excitement on the Internet where he directed me. Once I understood these the Glass Gem Corn is not a sweet corn – the kind best for eating fresh and the most frequently grown corn in home gardens — I knew Lillian did not need to worry about harvesting at the right time. Indian corn, grown for grinding into flour, or popping corn is dried before use. Corn can be dried either on the stalks or off. In humid areas it can take a long time to dry unless harvested and kept in a special, dry place. In our chaparral the autumn air is drier than root cellars made especially for the purpose, so drying on the stalks is perfect – so long as rodents are denied access.

glass gem colors

This cob sports a whole rainbow of colors!

Glass Gem Corn is considered the most colorful corn ever bred. The multicolored kernels range through the entire rainbow and can look like glass beads – hence the name. Although this is not sweet corn, it is supposed to make a superior flower and exceptionally tasty popcorn. The startling colors make it stand out from other Indian corn varieties used for crafts and decor. In Oklahoma half century ago, a part-Cherokee farmer named Carl Barnes painstakingly cross bred only his most decorative plants until he came up with the Glass Gem line. The corn is a fully natural result of cross-pollination, grown organically and completely free of any engineering. Barnes passed on his seed collection to student and friend, Greg Schoen who continued the breeding. In 2010 Schoen requested the Native Seeds/SEARCH Trust in Arizona store seeds at their carefully controlled storage center. Bill McDorman, then a seedsman at the trust (and now the Executive Director) was curious about the name of these corn seeds and planted some in his own garden so see what would grow. He was amazed at the result and offered the first batch of seeds for sale in 2012. They were immediately snapped up. The seeds Dan had given me were from this first crop. Since then a second, larger crop has been planted and was just harvested. They should be available for purchase anytime now.

Some of the ears sport brilliant colors, others are more muted. Most of them have a wide range of coloring within each cob. There are more excellent photos at the Native Seeds/SEARCH site.

Lillian and I will be popping some of the corn. We didn’t grow enough to produce ample ground flour. But the most colorful ears will offer up some seasonal décor and seed material for next year’s crop. We won’t have enough to share, but — maybe next year? If our great Glass Gem Corn experiment has inspired you to try growing some of your own, check out the original source at http://www.nativeseeds.org/about-us/pressreleases/186-glass-gem-corn-now-available. I have seen seeds for sale on Amazon.com and a couple of other sites, but I cannot guarantee these are the pure Glass Gem variety.

Here’s a video showing the cropping of the corn as it dries on its stalks. There’s been some talk that the colorful claims are a hoax. As you see here, they are not! Peeling back the covering on each ear was as fun as unwrapping holiday presents!




Don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying

fruit tree blossoms

Decorative peach blossoms will set fine fruits if insects don’t wreak havoc on them!

Healthy fruit trees are the result of good care. One of the more important aspects of getting good fruit and having beautiful, blooming fruit and nut trees is the winter spraying regimen. This is a job all too frequently overlooked even in mild winter climates which offer plenty of time to do the job. There are many ways to protect fruit trees from destructive weather and pests but don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying. It should start in the autumn, as soon as trees drop their leaves, and continue until springtime opens the blossoms.

fruit on the tree

A fine crop of pluots

Fruit and nut tree varieties should be selected for your climate – or even microclimate. They all have different needs. Equally, fungal infections and insect pests have favorite areas and favorite host trees. For example, in warmer coastal parts of Los Angeles, citrus trees fall easy prey to scale, whitefly and mealybug. In others areas, black rot can eat into the limbs of stone fruit trees (plum, apricot, nectarine, etc.). Fire blight can turn branches of fruiting and ornamental pears black just about everywhere. And leaf-rollers and aphids can attack a whole assortment of fruit trees in warm winter climates where they are not killed off by frosts.

Garden sprayer

Find the sprayer that works best for you.

Just as you have a lot of choices with tree cultivars, you also have a wide range of tree protecting sprays. There are plenty of commercial products for sale, but I prefer to use the organic or old fashioned remedies that are less toxic and work as well – if not better. The best sprays to use in autumn and winter are the dormant oil sprays, usually lime-sulfur or copper-sulfate. These sprays will help suffocate over-wintering insects and can function as fungicides. Neem® is an organic spray that is also used safely to kill insect pests on edibles. Try to spray trees as soon as you can after leaf drop and, ideally, spray every three to four weeks until the flower buds swell. Sprays can harm pollinating insects, so avoid any treatments while trees are in bloom. Do not use lime in any form on apricot trees – especially after they bud up – since they are lime sensitive. For more sensitive and evergreen fruit trees growing in the milder regions, try using a lighter fine oil spray made for leaf contact. Most of these treatments are all-natural and organically acceptable.

It is best to spray when winds are not blowing. Coat the whole tree from branch tips to base. Some fruit or nut trees can also be sprayed after bud drop. Do a little research into the needs of your specific kind of fruit tree(s). Make sure you read the labels and follow directions carefully. It is important to use the right proportions when mixing with water.

fruiting peach

Healthy peach on the tree

Weather and timing are critical for fruit spraying to be most effective. Proper winter spraying of fruit trees can make the difference between beautiful, fruitful trees and struggling, nonproductive trees. Sometimes these treatments can even save a tree’s life.

Herbs for double-duty in the garden

colorful herbs

Rows of colorful herbs

Gardening produces more than beauty. You can grow herbal plants that provide food, spices, medicines, dyes, and so much more. Herb gardens can be vast, or tiny. They can scramble over rocks, fences, open areas or decorate container gardens in small spaces. They can be planted in carefully controlled knot gardens to create designs and patterns, or sprawl naturally in a native-looking landscape. Herbs are versatile, productive and each one has its own individual beauty.

Some herbs have attractive growth forms and colors. Use them for their practical applications – food, spice, dyes, healing – or plant them for their ornamental values. Here is a small list of some herbs for double-duty that you can uses yet still be showy enough to include in the flower garden.

Go for showy habits of growth


angelica herb

The tall, red angelica creates a focal point in this mixed garden

Angelica Growing to 3 – 6 feet in height, this feathery plant offers seeds, leaves and stalks are often candied. It also adds a bold, vertical element and a deep red color that is decorative in the garden.

Basil Low growing and bushy plants can offer tiny green leaves, lush foliage or deep purple leaves, depending on the variety. All are good used fresh or in cooking.

Borage Outrageous sapphire blue flowers are colorful in the garden or fresh in salads. Young leaves have a cucumber flavor.


colored fennel

Feathery color with the smokey bronze fennel leaves

Fennel Check out the intriguing smoke-colored, finely-feathered foliage of bronze fennel for a soft billowy effect and eat the bulbous licorice-flavored stem or seeds. The regular, green fennel is best for eating, but the bronze variety is oh-so-showy!

Rosemary Large or small shrubs and low-growing ground-cover forms all offer flavoring, scent and color to the fast-draining, drought-tolerant garden.

Thyme Low, tiny-leafed mounds are excellent for flavoring floods, teas and decorating the landscape with green, yellow, white or rose colored foliage and little purple or pink blooms.

Sage The commonly used culinary varieties offer foliage painted with purples, yellows, and whites. They offer glowing deep violet or indigo spires of blooms. The Pineapple sage is smothered with brilliant scarlet flowers and pineapple-flavored foliage. Flavor iced water with a sprig of the latter for a fresh, healthy summer drink.

Some less common uses

Catnip Not only decorative in the drought-tolerant landscape, these blue and purple flowing catnip plants (Nepetas) are loved by cats with the catnip gene. These low-growing shrubs are are in the mint family.

Lavender These plants come in a variety of sizes and offer flower spikes in blues, purples and blends. They offer a yellow to olive green fabric dye and can be used for scenting candles, sachets, pillows, soaps and much more.

Calendula This ornamental bright annual flower is cheerful in gardens and even in wildflower gardens. It also yields a pale yellow dye for yarn or fabrics.

Bay The California Bay tree grows into a full sized, handsome, evergreen shade tree that contributes both shade and flavorful leaves in your landscape.

Water cress Not only is this plant good for eating, it roots easily in water so you can use it to grow in decorative ponds and waterfalls.

Useful ground-cover herbs (Not good for traffic areas)


garlic chive blooms

Garlic chives in bloom

Chives These are actually little bulbs that cluster together in masses. The common chive grows like a 4 – 6 inch tall clump of hollow, cylindrical green leaves with round globes of pink-lavender flowers. They are tasty in salads and useful for cooking.

Oregano Another great cooking herb, oregano can sprawl several feet wide and there are varieties from rich green to golden yellow.

Parsley Parsley is only a biennial so it will only last for a year – one season to grow and one to flower. It offers textural green foliage, flat and deeply cut for Italian varieties,  rounded and billowy for curly-leaved types. Grow lots in a blanket form or spot them individually in gardens. It is extremely high in vitamins C and A.

Italian parsley

Italian parsley

Peppermint This and other mints are all good for covering large areas. They spread readily rooting over the surface or underground. They are so enthusiastic you may want to confine them in pots unless you don’t care if they become invasive.

As you can see there are so many different looks and uses for herbs. They are great plants to use in the landscape. Or grow them in interesting containers. Think about getting double-duty from your plants. Herbs are perfect for this since there they offer a wide range of growth forms, colors, leaves and uses.

The difference between GMO and GEO

With all the concerns about safety with the foods being produced these days the term GMO – or Genetically Modified Organism – has become commonly used. To be entirely correct, though, we should be using ‘GEO’ – Genetically Engineered Organism’ — instead.

A genetically modified organism is not identical to its parent, which pretty much covers most living things on this planet that are created by more than one parent — that are not clones. Mixed genes of two or more parents modify the genetics, whether in people, animals or plants. Hybrids, which by literal definition are GMOs have been an  important part of the green industry for a long, long time and are not the focus of current concerns. In short, it is a fairly broad term that encompasses non-issues as well as those that are being highly debated.

Genetically engineered life forms or hormones are created by people in a laboratory where genetic material, mostly DNA, from unnatural and likely unrelated sources are joined together. A GEO is a type of GMO, but a GMO is not necessarily a GEO.

In gardening, there are many questions about the creation of genetically engineered plants and their safety. Due to questionable business practices of some of the large companies developing them the public is starting to understand there are safety questions regarding how development is done and long term resulting effects. How much research is really being devoted to the welfare of humanity? Are we creating monster plants — side effects that can endanger the natural balance of food production — and more? Are we developing plants to contain insecticides or fungicides that could be toxic to people and animals simply for the sake of more profitable mass production? Should government control these issues — or can government be trusted? Or who should police the developers and the producers of GEOs?  Or should business simply be allowed free use of all technology in a civilization based on capitalism where profits are rewarded no matter how they are gained. These are questions that are likely to continue to rage on.

In the meantime, we can always use the correct terms of GEO and GMO in our debates. Or not!



Grafted vegetables: easier, tastier, safer crops for the garden

caged tomatoes

Grafted ‘Defiant’ tomatoes grow faster than ‘Defiant’ plants would grow on their own roots.

UCanGrowThatThe political and entertainment news headlines may be more glamorous than the latest developments in the green industry, but what happens in our home gardens and the commercial  growing business can have a greater impact on the world than some of the more glitzy current events making the news. The way we treat our gardens, landscapes and horticultural businesses impacts the planet itself. And when it comes to edibles, we are talking about our health and even feeding the hungry.

A lot of attention and concern has centered on genetic engineering. There are many questions about the consequences of GEOs and other methods of manipulating cultivation. Most recently, however, there has been an alternative focus for growing more productively without any questionable or dangerous side effects. This latest approach is quickly growing in popularity and not only offers potential to help with world hunger, but can enrich the experience of growing edibles in the home garden. We are talking about grafted vegetables.

The concept is pretty simple and has been used for a long time. For decades fruit trees have been grafted onto stronger root stocks and even multiple varieties can be grafted onto the same fruit tree offering a selection of different fruits on different branches. Recently, due to new lines of grafted tomatoes with rootstocks that are naturally resistant to many of the diseases that threaten our favorite tomatoes, grafted tomatoes are creating gardening headlines. By uniting the rootstocks of these resistant tomatoes to the stems (scions) of high quality but less strong-growing varieties — like many of the heirlooms — the vulnerable varieties are becoming healthier and remarkably more productive. Because the grafting requires intensive labor, plants are currently two to three times more expensive than ungrafted plants. Still, having a much higher percentage of surviving plants that grow faster, offer higher quality and much larger crops (from double to ten times the harvest) can easily be worth the initial expense. There are a number of these grafted plants offered in garden centers, online and even at some of the big box stores.

grafting vegetables

Grafting vegetables can create jobs but does increase production costs. Higher plant survival and increased crops should offset the higher purchase price.

To produce these grafted plants, delicate tomato varieties are carefully clipped and are attached to the young roots and stems of strong growing, disease-resistant varieties. The stems of the two different plants make tight contact and grow together to make one fast-growing plant.  You can order rootstock to graft your own homegrown favorite varieties at Territorial Seed Company and Johnny’s Selected Seed among other sources.

Because tomatoes can grow roots from their stems, it is a common practice to plant them deeply. But with grafted tomatoes it is critical that they are never planted above the graft or the weaker upper growth will send out roots – bypassing the powerful root system and losing the advantage of the whole grafting concept.

I am currently testing out a half dozen different grafted tomato varieties. So far they are thriving and outstripping the growth of my regular,  ungrafted tomatoes. The grafted plants are already setting fruits and it looks like the crops will be heavy.

Tomatoes are the hottest of the grafted vegetables right now but there are also eggplants and peppers being introduced into the market with improved root systems. There are other vegetables currently in production which should soon be available for the home gardener.

It will be interesting to see if the grafted vegetable plants will overcome the resistance of most home growers to spend a little extra money for their plants. If production really is successful, the grafted vegetable may be a better solution for small-space gardening, more ease for the average gardener and maybe even a genuine weapon for combating hunger around the world — safely.

Young pepper grafts

Newly grafted young pepper plants

Can I grow vegetables in the shade?

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Can I grow vegetables if all I have is shade?

Despite the odd and changeable weather all over the globe, spring is coming and the gardening season is beginning. Every year there are new gardeners who discover the magic of growing and experienced gardeners who renew their fascination by trying new plants, products or designs. Novice, expert or anyone between, of all the different kinds of gardening possible growing edibles seems to be going viral for everyone.

Vegetables, fruits and herbs offer not only opportunities to experiment with gardening, but can be decorative and pay back with healthy, tasty food. Whether you grow your edibles in a small container, in a raised garden, integrate them in a flower bed or design a whole edible front yard, fruits and vegetables are showing off everywhere with the flexible roles and big payback they offer in today’s landscape.

edible front yard

A beautiful edible front yard grown by Rosalind Creasy

One of the most common concerns I hear from gardeners is that they won’t be able to grow fruits, vegetables or herbs if they don’t have a planting area with full sun. “I don’t have a lot of sun. Can I grow vegetables and fruits anyway?” I’m asked. Happily, the answer is that you probably can.

A rule of thumb is that most edibles grown for edible flowers and fruits will need plenty of sun: tomatoes, squash, melons, peas, etc.  Those grown for foliage and roots: spinach, rhubarb, beets, carrots and lettuce, for example, are more tolerant of shade.

The brighter the light and, of course, the more sun, the better. If you live in a very hot summer climate, many edibles – even the sun-lovers – can appreciate some relief from scalding sun. Last year a particularly hot summer week burnt most of my vegetables badly. If I had planted some vegetables in the shade, they would have been happier!

A little shade would have rescued them. But deep shade can be more difficult for growing fruits and vegetables even in hot areas.

Check out your growing space and find the brightest spot for growing your edible plants. A half day of sun or even some speckled shade will usually produce adequate leaf and root crops. Many herbs are also happy with less sun. Growing fruits and vegetables is so rewarding it’s worth at least giving it a try – even if you don’t have a lot of sun.