Securing Special Seeds (Martian Jewels Corn, for instance)
As far as I’m concerned, this time of year is already plenty busy enough. Had I my druthers, I’d just let the seed catalogs pile up until that lovely lull between Christmas and New Years when most of the baking is safely done but it’s not yet time to go see the accountant.
However. Thanks to the ballooning assortment of esoteric goodies for which not even the largest company has sufficient room, waiting is not an option. Between “last chance” and “limited supply” something unique is going to get sold out soon, and she who hesitates is going to be
Well, lost is an exaggeration, but possibly without wanted items, including Martian Jewels Corn. It’s quite new on the market and very new to us – we grew it for the first time last year – but already it’s on the “Last Chance” list at Seeds of Change.
The catalog describes this treat as “a totally unique sweet corn with a different flavor profile and appearance. The kernels are white, but the cob is deep purple, with mostly purple husks,” and the flavor is “more complex than typical sweet corns.”
Mostly true. The flavor is indeed complex, in a notably delicious way, and I’m beyond eager to play around with those purple cobs and husks (pink humitas!). But the kernels are only white, sweet and tender in young adulthood.
As they mature, slowly turning color themselves, they get starchy and even fuller flavored: less and less suitable for gnawing from the cob, more and more tasty in stews and chowders and fresh corn cornbread.
This switcheroo gives Martian Jewels an unusually long and varied picking window, much like that of our old favorite Black Mexican, except that M.J. stays on-the-cob-worthy longer.
Black Mexican is an heirloom, first offered commercially in the late 19th century. It acts like a cross between an SU sweet corn and a flour corn.* Martian Jewels is a modern cross of multiple corn types (including flour corn) developed by the ever-inventive Dr. Alan Kapuler, presiding genius over at Peace Seeds, who has been playing around with colored corn – especially the red sorts – for quite a while now.
The goal: breed a variety of corn that can be grown organically, fits the usual bills in terms of things like strong germination and plentiful yield, and not only tastes great but also is high in cancer thwarting anthocyanins, antioxidants that are a major source of red color in plants from tomatoes to maple leaves.
I’m almost sorry I found this outfit, because it’s just about impossible to stop browsing around on it. As is the way of things these days, participants come from all over the globe (primarily North America and Western Europe) and appear to be a nice mix of experts and newbies. Enough of the latter to keep you from feeling like a total dunce, enough of the former to make it easy to actually learn something.
To learn more from and about Dr. Kapuler, try this interview.
* Corn genetics is a fascinating subject, important to home gardeners who want to grow the best, but difficult to explain well without wading too far into the weeds. The University of Vermont has done a very good job here.
Useful Past Posts about Vegetable Seeds
The difference between heirlooms and hybrids, with a few favorite seed sources thrown in.
Buying organic seeds.
Deciding which seeds to start indoors.
When to start the seeds (sooner than you’d think, in some cases, later than you’d think, in most).