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!




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.

A bit about re-potting pond plants

One of the most beautiful aspects of growing a water garden is planting it with showy pond plants. There are floaters and bog plants that offer a beauty different from the dry land-lovers. Most of these plants have adapted to water environments so they need to have much of their growth in or surrounded by dampness. As a result, pond plants that have been removed for re-potting must be kept moist when out of their normal wet homes. Keep them enclosed in a plastic bag and out of the sun to avoid drying and burning while you work on the pond or prepare them for pots. Then work as quickly as possible to return them to their normal environment.
Bog plants prefer to have their toes wet so sink them deep enough to have at least some of the pot submerged. Most can handle water over the top of the pot rim.
Those that need to be fully immersed, like water lilies, need to have pots with no holes for soil to leak out. Different plants prefer different depths, so check the instructions when you buy one.
Floaters do not have to be potted at all and enjoy life drifting on the surface of your pond. Some of the smallest will be greedily consumed by pond fish.
When potting water plants, do not worry about having a pot that is too big. Unlike the dry-land garden flowers, there is never too much room. Most will grow to fill the largest tub and even if not, they can’t be over-potted. Keep yourself into the equation when you choose a pot size, though. You will have to lift the pot on occasion and if you are pulling it out of the water it will be heavy! So consider both what will work best for your plant and what you can handle for future maintenance.
Check out further advice in the video. Then, once your plants are in their new pots and set back into their homes, sit back and watch them grow!
How to Repot Pond Plants — powered by ehow
Multiply your pond plants

Is the electric fence keeping rats out of the vegetable garden?

Electric net fencing

Fencing allows these vegetables to grow

This a follow-up to the experiment started in autumn when I surrounded my vegetable garden with a pliable electrical fencing. The fencing, sold as raccoon fence, was installed to see of it would stop the devastation being caused by invading chaparral rats and ground squirrels. These pests climbed all other barriers and ate both seeds and plants until it was impossible to grow any edibles in the vegetable garden. The fencing was set on a timer to be electrified only after dark. (Otherwise working in the vegetable garden could become decidedly uncomfortable and the rodents were most active at night.)


pest control

Close-up of the electrical raccoon wire. (Note the additional smaller mesh wire against the cement block goes 18″ deep to keep out gophers.)

For the first spring in years vegetables are sprouting from planted seed and growing. This is the first major test to see how the raccoon fencing rat experiment is working. The tender young shoots have been irresistible to rodents for years now, and this is the first time these edibles have grown unmolested. Although plants in the onion family have fared well in the past despite incursions of rats and mice, lettuce, cabbage and peas are also thriving. Even the squash seeds have been able to germinate. I have hopes that maybe the rodents are indeed being trained to avoid the electrified fencing and turning away from the inviting plants in the vegetable garden.

Although there have been nibbles on some leaves, there are no signs of the typical rodent aggressive gnawing. I believe small critters like snails or slugs are still finding their way in, but the damage so far has been minimal. I will continue monitoring the success of the raccoon fence as the season in my backyard garden progresses. So far it is looking very encouraging.  (I ordered my fence at Electric fence.com.)

Raccoon fencing

Fencing also surrounds the garden around the pond to keep out fishing raccoons.

Eat new vegetables and fruits for good health and sustainable agriculture

Here is an article courtesy of  Dan Grifen that addresses our eating habits. Eating new and diverse vegetables and fruits is not only good for our health, but can have a major effect on the ‘greening of the planet’ and sustainable agriculture. Here’s what Dan writes:

Sustainability Through the Consumption of Things Conserved

“In other environmental issues we tell people to stop something, reduce their impact, reduce their damage,” – US Ecologist Gary Nabham.

Since the beginning of the green movement, there has been a rise in the number of organizations and businesses that are doing their part in the promotion of sustainability through conservation. As human beings, we’re told to reduce our carbon footprint, consume less unhealthy foods, and spend less time in the shower! But let’s take a minute to step back and look at this from a different perspective; one that Gary Nabham strongly suggests.

Gary Paul Nabham, phD., is a Arab-American writer/conservationist whose extensive farming work in the U.S./Mexico borderlands region has made him world renowned. Specifically speaking, Nabham is known for his work in biodiversity as an ethnobotanist. His uplifting messages and attitude towards life and culture has granted us access to multiple beneficial theories including his latest of eat what you conserve.

According to The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, about three quarters of the genetic diversity of crops been vanishing over the last century and that a dozen species now gives 90% of the animal protein eaten globally. In accordance, just 4 crop species supply half of plant based calories in the human diet.

Nabham claims that by eating the fruits and vegetables that we are attempting to conserve/save, we’re promoting the granular dissemination of various plant species. But this goes beyond what we typically buy in supermarkets, particularly because of price and abundance. We must remember to try new things and immerse ourselves in the very concept of diversity. Keep in mind- the benefits of splurging for that costly fruit/vegetable supremely outweigh the cons. Not only are you promoting biodiversity and further eliminating the needs of farmers to remove rare, less purchased crops off their agenda, but you’re also effectively encouraging healthier lifestyles.
Agriculturist Marco Contiero mentioned that “biodiversity is an essential characteristic of any sustainable agricultural system, especially in the context of climate change.”[1] With sustainable crop efforts being lead by the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) and the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) the duo plans to provide a more sustainable crop that can withstand natural disasters, avoiding food shortages like Haiti is experiencing. Contiero goes on to state “We need to ensure this is the basis for the future…” – This is exactly what Doug Band, the CGI, and the IRRI are doing by engaging in sustainability efforts.

So remember, next time you’re in the supermarket picking out navel oranges or strawberries, turn your attention to something that’s a bit more “out of season,” or exotic in nature. The same goes for salads/salad ingredients; shop outside the norm, picking spices and vegetables that you wouldn’t normally incorporate into your everyday diet. During such economic downtime it isn’t always easy to maintain the same level of grocery shopping intrigue, but we must also not forget that in this sundry of foods we can find fun!

Dan Grifen – Supporter of all things green and progressive.

You can read more from Dan at http://everythingleft.wordpress.com/ or find him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/d_grifen