Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Make My Mauka Massive

As delighted as I was to have finally grown mauka, the Holy Grail of Inca root crops last year,   I want to explore ways of producing a better crop.  Pictures in Lost Crops of the Incas and this little one from the CIP website       
seem to show a preponderance of swollen stems making up the bulk of the crop, rather than the roots about which I waxed lyrical a while ago. 

To maximise yields, I'm attempting a modified version of the spud-in-a-bin technique: the unfortunate plant is subjected to regular avalanches of compost such that only the top third of it remains above the surface.  In the case of potatoes this encourages tubers to form in the leaf axils, giving a very high yield for the area occupied by the bin.  With mauka this will hopefully lead to stems -  I quote verbatim from the above book - "the length and diameter of a person's forearm".  We'll see. 

As a strong advocate of decapitation (see previous post), I took a sharp knife and hacked off the tops of my two plants back in February.  I could see  some adventitious buds present at the junction between the stem and root collar.  I planted them a little below the original soil level and waited for signs of activity.  Seeing as the tops had been exposed to sub zero temperatures for several weeks and the pots were apparently frozen solid, I was more than a  little concerned that I had blown it on the mauka front and I  might have to beg plants from the ever-generous Frank van Keirsbilck.   Call it incipient Post Harvest Traumatic Stress Syndrome if you like.  Thankfully I was spared that indignity. The tops rooted quite easily and soon those dormant buds burst forth in pleasing profusion, as shown below:   

Like the virile shoots poking through the compost, I was elevated from despondency to delight.  Mauka seems to be a tough, but tasty cookie.

I allowed the twins (non-identical) to grow on for a few weeks, by which time they looked like this: 

I potted them on at this stage.  Another few weeks have gone by since then and I've decided that the stems are ready to be buried. 

Here goes: 

Grab the plants by their medusa-like top growth, thrust them into the bottom of suitably deep pots and then back fill with compost.  

Below are the finished pots ready to grow on for a bit before planting out in May. Hopefully those stems will be swelling with every day that passes.  I'll bury them even further when they go into the ground.  I like the idea of a forearm-sized underground stem - one that could double as an offensive weapon as well as a food source. Mirabilis by name, miraculous by nature? Maybe I'll have an answer by the end of this year. 

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Off with their heads!

Do not adjust your sets.  This image of my oca seedlings is different from the previous one.  We all know how new parents love to record the minutiae of their offspring's development and share it with their friends and anybody else who sticks around long enough.  Now I'm doing it.  

The ungainly, floppy monsters which had, somehow, developed from those demure little seedlings, were clearly in need of repotting.  It was a bit of a tussle untangling the stems, but I managed it.   When I'm satisfied that they've survived being transplanted, I'll decapitate them and use the severed heads as cuttings.    On the subject of heads, I make the total count to be around twenty new oca individuals.   My kid didn't just come first in the hundred metres, nor did she take the role of Mary in the school Nativity play, but I do feel quite proud. 

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