Friday, 25 December 2009

Jingle Bells This Ain't

'Tis the season to get all poetic, so here's a thinly veiled, angst ridden autobiographical composition, Derriford Infirmary Blues (with apologies to Johnny Cash)

I hear that ambulance coming, arriving at my door, it's taking me to Derriford,
I need their help I'm sure
Now I'm stuck in isolation with drips all in my arm
Bilateral pneumonia's done me some real harm

It started with a temperature, a cough and now it's worse
I surely need a doctor, or failing that a nurse
Cos I didn't see it coming, low O2 in my brain
Doc, please whup that lung infection, so I feel right again

Staring at the ceiling, I cannot sleep at night
Nosebleeds, nausea, breathlessness, doctor is this right?
Have faith in antibiotics, they will see you through
Son, take your Doxycycline and Amoxicillin too

I've left the Derriford doctors and three weeks have elapsed
It seems like bloody ages since my poor lungs collapsed
But now I'm doing better and I'm back on my on my feet
Just a little while longer and I can walk the street

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

OCAsional Update 4) Cabin Fever Cure


I'm still currently confined to barracks, but at least I no longer have to stare at the ceiling and listen to Radio 4 repeats all day long. I can now shuffle about and am even able to climb the stairs without going on my hands and knees as I had to until recently. This is a merciful relief after more than a month of prostration. I'd like to thank my friend Chris's dad, Norman Heatley, for his pivotal, albeit long-deferred role in my recovery.

What better way could there be to celebrate my recuperation than with a bit of Radix-directed occupational therapy?

So, for the first time in weeks, I step into the front room and see drifts of small glassine envelopes scattered across the floor and furniture. A momentary panic-induced relapse seems a distinct possibility. But no, faint heart never bred fair oca. If I'm well enough to sit up and have fully functional opposable thumbs, then I'm well enough to open the envelopes and sort the seeds. Time for my very own pre-Christmas presentfest, tempered somewhat by the knowledge that I know exactly what's inside. Still, that doesn't make their contents any less precious. Here goes.......

Later that day
Glad that's done. All I need to do now is a few calculations. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Even later the same day
I am, for the moment, limited to living vicariously on past oca glories. I await, anxiously, impatiently, the opportunity to disinter what remains of my oca tubers, as well as the mashuas and maukas. The recent sub-zero temperatures are causing me some alarm. Let's hope that at least some of the tubers escape destruction. In the meantime, I may as well share some of my as-yet-unrevealed observations from 2009. These were recorded back when I was allowed to roam outside to my heart's content, with nary an oxygen line nor antibiotic to restrain me. Although sketchy and anecdotal, they may be of interest to some of you. If they read like excised segments from one of James Joyce's stream-of-consciousness novels, my apologies. Publish and be damned.

Firstly, looking through my smudged, smeared and mud-encrusted notebook, I see the list of oca seedlings and their stylar arrangements. Out of the 25 seedlings, my records show that 16 flowered between August and October with stylar morph ratios (short:medium:long) of 9:5:2. I think another couple were due to flower towards the end of October, but I didn't manage to check them out in time.

I did notice that the long styled flowers seemed to be generally smaller in size than the other types and I've got a suspicion that they weren't produced as abundantly. I'd like to investigate this further next year.

I managed to collect seeds from a total of 15 of the 16 varieties that formed pods - only 0919 escaped me completely. In terms of productivity, there was wide variation, both between varieties and between pods of the same variety. Like I say, when I've done the calculations, I'll let you know.

Back in the days when the ocas were flowering, I saw two insect pollinators working the flowers: Bombus pascuorum and Platycheirus clypeatus. Both are widespread, generalist pollinators, the latter being a hoverfly, while the former is the common carder bumblebee. Judging by the numbers of pods which seemed to set without my assistance, I can only assume that they were doing a fairly good job. This is good news and tends to support the theory that, with the synchronous flowering of different stylar morphs, pollination and seed set is not that difficult to achieve. Long term Peruvian resident and oca watcher, Eilif Aas, tells me that pod formation is quite common there too.

The biggest, most vigorous plants were the first to flower, notably 0916 and 0917. These were also the first to show a definite yellowing of their foliage at the beginning of November. Shame I missed what happened next.

Peduncle length was quite variable between varieties, from nice long ones (about 10 cm in length) as found on 0912, 0908, 0916 and 0917, to much shorter ones (as little as 5 cm) found on some of the reddish calyx specimens, such as 0924. The latter's pods were often almost hidden in the foliage - not so convenient when it came to bagging.

0913 showed signs of fasciation. This is something which I have never noticed in any of my ocas before, although it is referred to in some of the literature I have seen. It still managed to flower and form pods, however. You can see the typically flattened stem with leaves clustered at the top in this photo:












What I really want to do now is sally forth, spade (or maybe pickaxe) in one hand, camera in the other and rescue the tubers, record their vital statistics and bag them up in a frost free place. The spirit is willing, but the body protests. Don't suppose Santa's little helpers are up for a bit of moonlighting?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

By which I mean, of course, the arrival of hopniss (Apios americana) in Cornwall, legendary home (supposedly) of King Arthur, Merlin, Uther Pendragon and all the rest. While I was languishing in my hospital bed, Bryan Connolly very kindly sent me some seeds he collected near his home in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, which must be pretty damn close to the most northerly spot at which diploid hopniss grows. Unless, of course, dear Massachusetts resident, you know different.......By all accounts, New England had a pretty indifferent summer in 2009, so the fact that these plants managed to set seeds is encouraging. A tasty, nitrogen fixing, northern-adapted root crop - now there's a Christmas present worth unwrapping.

It seems like the Universe has risen to the challenge I set it back in July: provide me with hopniss seeds from even further north than New Jersey. Not only that, but the seeds arrived before Thanksgiving, just as I had requested. Shame I wasn't in any fit state to acknowledge their receipt until now. So, belated thanks Bryan, Radix's very own Mr Universe.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Magical Mystery Tour

The best laid schemes o' mice an men
Gang aft agley
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy!

- Robert Burns

By rights I ought to be regaling you with news of my freshly lifted oca tubers, radiantly diverse in colour and form. I ought to have weighed each variety and drawn some conclusions about yields, tuber size and perhaps, done a taste trial.

Just as I was about to embark on all of this, I started to develop an annoying dry cough and found it hard to sleep at night due to an elevated temperature. Flu, I thought and took to my bed with plenty of cups of honey and lemon to keep me hydrated. Batten down the hatches and weather the storm - that's my usual response to these sorts of illnesses. After about a week, I was still unable to sleep at night and found myself becoming confused and disorientated. We called the doctor out and he took my temperature and blood pressure and then did an oxygen saturation test using a finger monitor. The next thing I knew, I had an oxygen mask on my face and was in the back of an ambulance on a midnight run to hospital. In addition to oxygen, I was put on a drip and given loads of antibiotics intravenously. The diagnosis was pneumonia, not flu. I've now been out of hospital for a week, but the process of recovery is taking a lot longer than I was expecting, so bear with me if posts are a bit sparse for a while.
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