Securing Special Seeds (Martian Jewels Corn, for instance)

martian jewels corn

An ear of Martian Jewels on the stalk – note the rich color of the stem and husk. (See end of post for useful tips on choosing and ordering vegetable seeds).

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.

martian jewel corn - cob tip

Black Mexican has a yellow cob. Only the white kernels on it change, rapidly turning blue, then black. In Martian Jewels, as you can see at the right, the red starts in the cob and kernel sheaths. It takes quite a while to show up in the kernels themselves.

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.

A more detailed explanation of Martian Jewels’ genetic heritage is on this thread at Homegrown Goodness, one of the roughly gazillion online fora devoted to food gardening.

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).

The storage life of seeds.

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1 Comment »

  • I barely have room for a couple of tomatoes and some chillies, but with a name like Martian Jewels I might just have to own a packet of seeds to display.

    Not a bad idea, Scotty — plus you could try one cluster of stalks, just for pretty and and a taste. You’d have to hand-pollinate, but if there were only 3 or 4 plants that wouldn’t be a big deal.

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