Plant Rainbow Corn to Give Color to Your Garden

When people hear the word “corn,” the image usually appears is a juicy, warm, and fresh ear of corn on the cob from a roadside stand or the farmer’s market. Corn can also conjure up the image of popcorn that people munch on when watching a movie or just chilling at home.

Although many people are used to seeing white and yellow kernels when they peel back the husk along with the silk, some corn varieties are so visually pleasing that they will make people’s jaws drop. Best of all, this type of corn is edible.

Enter rainbow corn, also known as glass gem corn. This vegetable, fruit, and grain (yes, folks, this popular ingredient can fall under any of the three categories) can make your home garden more colorful.

What is Rainbow Corn?

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Rainbow corn is a colorful corn that perfectly combines utility and beauty. Each corn is unique, as the glass gem corn seeds can spawn dozens of combinations and colors. You won’t know their appearance until you remove the husk.

Every cob is a surprise. You can even come up with shiny pastel kernels. You could also discover kernels in shades of red or blue. Then, there are kernels with multicolored ears. Given how unique and colorful rainbow corn is, people grow this vegetable for its ornamental appeal.

A Short History of the Rainbow Corn

Although the vibrant colors of the rainbow corn are what first draw people in, its history is just as interesting.

The story of this corn started before the 1800s when Native Americans grew ancestral types of corn. The native tribes used sustainable and traditional practices to grow a range of corn. Over time, though, some ancestral strains got lost.

Fast forward to the 20th century, Carl Barnes, a farmer from Oklahoma, set out to grow older varieties of corn to help reconnect with his Cherokee heritage. Barnes was able to isolate ancestral strains that were unfortunately lost to tribes when European settlements relocated them to what’s now called Oklahoma. He started to exchange ancient corn seeds with people he had met and befriended all across the nation.

Barnes began choosing seeds from the most colorful cobs. This selective breeding resulted in the creation of rainbow-colored corn. Although he has passed on, many remember him with gratitude for his work to share, preserve and collect native corn varieties.

Rainbow Corn Nutritional Information

Regarding nutritional values, no official studies or research can trace the values of every rainbow corn strain. However, knowing that this type of corn comes from a Flint Corn family, we can denote that it features high levels of fibers perfect for maintaining a balance of the digestive tract.

Additionally, the following minerals and vitamins are present in the kernels:

  • Magnesium – Perfect for the nerve function
  • Copper – Great for the metabolism
  • Phosphorus – Booster for the bones and teeth

Besides the predominant minerals, Gem corn has small amounts of zinc, iron, and B vitamins. Unlike sweet corn, it’s not abundant in vitamin C and is more calorie-dense. However, it does contain more vitamin A than other grains and is less sugary and fattening than other starchy vegetables.  

Given the above information, rainbow corn is perfect when used as flour and thickener in doughy foods.

Growing Rainbow Corn

Just like the butter lettuce, rainbow corn isn’t too hard to grow. All this corn needs is the right conditions.

Remember that rainbow corn seeds are something you won’t see at your everyday garden store. The good news is you can purchase these seeds online.

Once you have the seeds, position them in an area of full sun. The glass gem corn requires plenty of sunlight and warmth during summer to flourish well.

Another thing to remember is that rainbow corn is flint corn. This means that it will need a longer season to come to maturity. Growing this where the season is short may be difficult to pull off.

As for the soil, plant the glass gem corn in fertile soil. If this isn’t possible, don’t fret; it can still grow well at various pH levels and soil types. The soil needs to be moist but free-draining. What’s more, sufficient moisture should be available throughout the growing season.

Rainbow Corn Plant Care

Wind is a major problem when caring for glass gem corns. Strong winds can affect the growth of the plant. You can encourage the rainbow corn to grow by taking measures to keep it safe from the wind.

You could, for instance, invest in windbreaks — six-foot-tall fences designed to safeguard the stalks from the wind.

As for watering, corn doesn’t need a lot of water. Simply sprinkle water approximately an inch deep when you find that the soil is getting dry.

Rainbow Corn Companion Plants

There are many plants compatible with corn. Experienced farmers would say growing serrano pepper goes with European corn. But, for the best results, you need Rainbow corn-specific compatible plants. 

Below, you can find the benefits of planting your corn with the following plants:

  1. Melons: Fruits and vegetables in one bed? Sure, yes, especially if the fruit is a vine plant that spreads along to hydrate the soil and prevent the growth of weeds.
  2. Marigolds: If you plant corn for decoration, mix them with marigolds. Marigolds are a great companion for pest repellers; only these are more for a decorative garden rather than nutritional.
  3. Cucumbers: Cucumbers fall in the vine family and offer the same benefits as melons. Also, if you plan to grow a plant, mind that both cucumbers and butterhead have the same planting time.
  4. Thyme: Aromatic herbs are great against earworms, common pests attacking corn crops. Also, thyme is a versatile seasoning to have in your garden. 
  5. Winter squash: The squash family is an excellent vine choice to keep the soil moist and weed-free. However, unlike the melons, the squash vine is prickly and thus believed to repel raccoons from the corn. Halloween pumpkins are also a good option.
  6. Beans: The beans are great nitrogen boosters for the soil and act as a support system for the crops.

If you follow the tradition of the Native Americans, they used to mix the corn crops with beans and squash and called this treatment the “three sisters.” The different crops have different characteristics – like sisters – that can complement each other’s growth. You can use any crops from the list above to make the best of your garden and continue this ancient tradition.

Fertilizing Rainbow Corn

Similarly to regular corn, the Glass Gem corn plant requires fertilizers because it’s heavy-feeding. 

You can use organic or inorganic fertilizers, but the organic ones are more recommended because they release the extra nutrients into the soil slowly, which allows the plant to absorb the food and grow correspondingly. As a result, they will be bountiful in taste. 

However, since Glass Gems are not so recommended for eating, although edible, you can also use inorganic or chemically derived fertilizers to boost plant growth and make them look bulky and colorful. 

Otherwise, the ideal fertilizer must have nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Harvesting Rainbow Corn

So, when to harvest Glass Gem corn or any other rainbow corn strain? The Glass Gem corn days to maturity add up to 90-120. However, you must pay attention to the details before you harvest.

Namely, you should wait for the ears to dry completely on the cornstalks. You can see if the corn is ready by slowly peeling the husk and checking up on the kernels. You can begin harvesting if they do not leave a mark on your finger and are hard to the touch. 

If you have never harvested corn before, take the corn and then twist and break the ears of the plant. You need the ears to wrap the corn again to prevent molds. Then, peel the husks and hang your corn in a dry and dark location for 4-6 weeks. Always keep the area dry and dark to prevent discoloration and molds. Once your corns are fully dry, you can strip the kernels.

Many farmers use a corn picker to do the job faster and more precisely. The corn picker only harvests the cobs and grains by snapping the ears from the stalk.

Once you’ve got your corn, you can either dry it as mentioned above or can or freeze it. Frozen rainbow corn has a fresher taste and most nutrients but isn’t as cost-effective as canned corn.

You can then use your corn to make delicious foods such as: 

  • Bread
  • Pancakes
  • Polenta
  • Grits.

Cooking with Rainbow Corn

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Although rainbow corn looks pretty, you should not expect this plant to be like regular corn. As flint corn, it has a tough outer shell, which means that you won’t be able to bite into it easily.

If you want to cook with this type of corn, you’ll need to process it first. This involves blanching the corn for at least three minutes, cutting off the kernels and using a dehydrator.

Once dehydrated, you can whip up delicious rainbow popcorn — a corn recipe you should add to your recipe list.

Here are the steps to making glass gem popcorn:

  1. Heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil on a large pot with a lid.
  2. Add one-third cup of dried rainbow corn kernels to the pot.
  3. Put the lid on. Then, remove from the heat for about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the pot to heat and repeat the process every half a minute until the popcorn pops.
  5. Add salt, butter, caramel or other ingredients to taste.

Rainbow corn may not be like sweet corn, but you can make colorful and delicious popcorn out of it. If you don’t want to eat it, you could use this plant to give color to your backyard or decorate your home for the autumn season.

Corn Vs. Rainbow Corn

Rainbow, Aztec, Gem, or Flint corn are just some of the terms related to the cute colorful corn popularized by Carl Barnes. This corn type has colorful kernels that capture everyone’s attention.

Let’s take the Glass Gem corn, for example. The Glass Gem corn is part of the Poaceae family. Contrary to popular belief, the kernels are developed through selective breeding by using ancient corn varieties and mixing them with open pollination techniques, not genetically modified. Once planted, they need nearly 120 days to be ready for harvest. The crops can grow 6-9 feet high, like a baby coconut tree

Namely, the Glass Gem grows 2-8 inches long, cylindrical, and straight. Unlike regular corn, the kernels of the glass gem are significantly stronger. When ripe, every kernel has some or all of the below colors:

  • Emerald
  • Pink
  • Bright green
  • Yellow
  • Ruby
  • Dark blue
  • Amethyst.

The kernels are covered with an external layer that recreates that chewy texture. Otherwise, the Glass corn is rich in starch, so it is not recommended to be consumed fresh. The taste is neutral, starchy, and unsweetened.

Flavor-wise, the colorful rainbow corn is chewy and neutral compared to sweet corn. It is completely edible, but it is not quite delicious. Sweet corn is more recommended for food. 

Nonetheless, there are other uses of the rainbow corn plant and why you should consider growing it in your garden:

  • To make the crispiest popcorn bowl
  • To enrich the diversity in your backyard 
  • To dry it and display it as deco.

10 Amazing Tips And Precautions While Growing Rainbow Corn

Planting a line of rainbow corn crops often results in losing half of it during harvest. So, how to grow Glass Gem corn without sacrificing harvest quantity and quality? We selected 10 helpful tips to keep in mind:

1. Use the “Three Sisters Method”

As mentioned above, those plants must be different for the “three sisters method” to work. While we already recommended the corn, squash, and beans combo, you can always replace the squash with other vine crops. The main idea is for the chosen plant to complement the entire process.

2. Contribute to Fertilization

Using fertilizer is great, but throwing food into the corn like that will not have the best results. Instead, you need to mulch around the corn crops using an organic mulch that can slowly fertilize your crops and boost their growth during the growing season.

3. Pick the Right Location for Your Crops

When growing Glass Gem corn in your home garden, the location you pick to plant the rainbow corn seeds is crucial. 

Similarly, as sweet corn, rainbow corn enjoys the sun and needs that vitamin D to help them grow and speed up the process. Therefore, when picking the location for your crops, make sure that it’s on the sunny side.

4. Pest Control

Before you plant your rainbow corn, remember that pests will always try to crawl up and eat your crops. Therefore, it is important to establish a sustainable pest control system.

Earworms are the most common pests attacking corn. To prevent them, you must provide convenient conditions for their predators, such as ladybugs, wasps or flies. Additionally, weed your crops regularly and water the soil adequately.

5. Make a Fertile Soil

The best soil for rainbow corn is sand or husk and compost. The compost also acts as a fertilizer to help your crops grow healthy.

6. Harvest the Corn When Ready

Usually, many first-time growers make the mistake of harvesting Glass Gem corn while underdeveloped or overdeveloped. Therefore, always check up on your crops as instructed above. Twist the husk, and pull it downward at once. This will help you take it out effectively.

7. Use Gloves When Shelling the Corn

The Glass Gem corn kernels are very hard when fully dry. If you touch your kernels and they don’t leave any marks on your fingers and feel super hard, it’s time to shell them.

Corn shellers are the best tool for removing the kernels, but wear gloves before you begin. The sheller can damage your knuckles and hands as the kernels are too hard to pull.

8. Don’t Overwater the Crops

Remember to keep your crops hydrated by providing enough water. Although these crops can be very thirsty, overhydration can lead to wilting your crops and losing your beautiful gem corn.

One trick to knowing whether you provide sufficient water to your corn is placing a one-inch wooden stick into the soil. Stop watering once the stick is fully submerged in water.

9. Pruning Is Part of the Journey

To promote a healthy glow in your garden, it’s important to implement the pruning routine. It’s a simple and standard process that begins with taking out the dead leaves, which are yellow and brownish. Also, if you find yellow or brown tips, you must trim them with scissors. Finally, you can remove the back stems to achieve the ultimate look of your corn.

10. Provide a Safe Zone from Storm

Winds can be corn’s greatest enemy, and it’s important to establish a system to keep them safe. An easy DIY trick is to plant wooden poles in the corners of your garden, close to the crops. You will need to frame the corns. Then you must take a rope or fabric and tie each pole like a fence. In a hail storm, you can put a plastic cover over the crops and tie it to the poles.


Rainbow corn, or Glass Gem corn, is one of the best sensations in the horticultural world. It is a tradition that has survived for centuries and invites everyone to expand their cultural knowledge by putting themselves in the shoes of the Native Americans.

Despite the beautiful looks, Rainbow Corn is edible and one of the best options for popcorn lovers. It is easy to maintain if you are willing to follow the instructions. Ultimately, growing jewel corn on the cob always pays off well! We hope you found this article informative and that you learned the basics of Glass Corn gardening. Happy farming!

FAQs About Rainbow Corn

1) How long does it take to grow rainbow corn?

The average time for ripe rainbow corn is 90-120 days from the day of planting.

2) When is the best time to plant rainbow corn?

The best season to plant rainbow corn is late spring when the soil is warmer. Make sure to place them on a sunny side and avoid shades.

3) What does rainbow corn taste like?

Unlike sweet corn, rainbow corn is neutral and has a chewy texture. Although completely edible, it’s more recommended for popcorn or processing.

4) How often should I water the rainbow corn plants?

The rainbow corn needs to be watered once a week. You can take a wooden stick and poke it into the soil. It should be 1 inch wet.

5) Is it safe to grow rainbow corn under direct sunlight?

Absolutely! Rainbow corn needs the sun to grow. Feel free to expose them under direct sun, but establish a system protecting them from hail storms.

6) What happens if you don’t plant corn deep enough?

You may end up with rootless corn that will not make it eventually.

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