Saturday, 1 August 2009

It Might As Well Rain Until September

Well, the sun has yet to return in any meaningful way, but I did manage to get a photo of one oca seedling's flowers, hanging somewhat disconsolately in a shower-induced sulk. They were a bit too wet and tight-lipped to determine what kind of stylar arrangement they had, but I suppose I can wait until the rain subsides and the sun returns. There is talk on the radio about a possible improvement in August - maybe, then again maybe not. Too late for the potatoes - we hacked off the blight-blasted foliage the other night.

Glass half full moment: at least we're not growing cereal crops as a subsistence staple - I might fear for my expanding waistline if we were. Phytophthora notwithstanding, tubers as a staple make a lot of sense in our fickle and vacillating climate. Hence the Radix project....

Here's a view along the bed full of babes, showing some of the variation in size among the seedlings.

And here's a shot of one of the maukas, all trussed up with nowhere to go. They seem completely unfazed by the weather, be it dry or wet. Nor are they bothered by their incarceration in my hastily constructed makeshift pots. This plant is a proliferating mass of shoots about a metre across.

As I was snapping away merrily (a career in photo journalism, you'll notice, just got even more unlikely), I remembered something I'd read by Tom Wagner. Tom is a tomato and potato breeder in the USA and has created loads of the varieties that grace the gardens of the heirloom tomato brigade. Hell, I've even grown Green Zebra tomatoes myself.

In his potato breeding he is very careful to select for potatoes with superior berrying abilities - no seeds, no new varieties; a similar goal must surely be at the top of my list. Most breeders choose sparse-berrying potato varieties as female parents of crosses, because it's easier to cross pollinate these without having to emasculate the flowers. The result, according to Tom, is that their progeny go on to be poor berry producers. He advocates an alternative approach, selecting parents that are able to self pollinate as well as outcross. As oca is, apparently, an obligate outcrosser, this is going to be a little tricky to achieve. And yet.......

There is a small amount of self fertilisation in oca. A paper I read a while ago suggested that the mid-styled morphs (weren't they headlining at Glastonbury this year?) are able to self-pollinate to a limited degree. They can then go on to produce fertile seeds. Should we be scouring our collections in search of these in order to up the likelihood of producing more new seed grown plants? Are the "crosses" I'm presuming took place merely the result of favourable conditions at the time of flowering and nothing more than self pollinations? Are our plants raddled old workhorses, riddled with viruses which are rendering them incapable of sexual reproduction, hence the aborted flowers? More flowers will soon be on their way - time to crank the starting handle on the Radix oca database, whip out the hand lens and get down, serious and dirty, in pursuit of data.

PS. Tom Wagner is coming to Europe this autumn.......


W said...

Even if the flowers are drooping, your oca plants look to be thriving wonderfully lush. But yes, let the sun shine in!

Rhizowen said...

Hi W
I hope your plants are doing well too.

Patrick said...

Hi Rhizowen,

Frank just mentioned your blog because he also sent me some cipotato mauka cuttings. You mention Tom is coming to Europe this year, but I don't think you're signed up to see him in Oxford, are you? Did you know about this?

There's still plenty of space in the Sunday potato breeding workshop, and you're welcome to just come for this if you only want to come for one day and spend as much time with Tom as possible.

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