Saturday, 30 January 2010

The 2009 Ocademy Awards

I've been thinking about rescuing what remains of my root crops from the ground - if the frost don't get 'em the molluscs will. Up and out they must come or I will be consumed by anxiety and guilt. And as it was a beautiful sunny afternoon today, I decided to liberate at least some of my literally-lost crops of the Incas, starting of course with more of the oca seedlings.

The losses I had discovered previously, when I lifted the first tubers last week, continued through all the pots. I would estimate that between half and two thirds of the tubers were either partially or completely frosted. This will make valid yield comparisons a bit of a nightmare. But is an oca pot half empty or half full? It still leaves tubers for replanting this spring.

It's also possible to draw a few conclusions about the performance of the different seedlings which ranged from unimpressive (no tubers - R.I.P.) to impressive (goodly numbers of usefully sized tubers).

The most obvious characteristic of the tubers, their colour, showed limited variation, with the majority being either pale ("white") or yellowish. There were only three varieties with red skins out of a total of twenty two that made it to harvest.

I decided to take a a desultory glance at the mashuas, half hoping, I suppose, that the frost would have either killed them or rendered them palatable. Or maybe both. Three varieties seemed to have survived and yielded well: "Colombian White", "Red" and "Purple". None of my speckled types pulled through. Bearing in mind that 2010 is IYB (International Year of Biodiversity), I felt a twinge of sadness at this loss and a rising determination to find some way of turning this culinary ugly duckling into a swan, or at least disguising its less appealing traits. Like the fact that it tastes unpleasant. We've got to help this plant mastermind a borstal breakout into the horticultural mainstream somehow. Digressing egregiously once again - how's about we make 2011 International Year of Agrobiodiversity? Cos that's what life - as we know it - depends on.

Peering into the ulluco pots next, I feared the worst - and those fears turned out to be justified. My ulluco collection has been slaughtered, decimated, annihilated. Pot after pot yielded nothing. Now I was a little upset. Stiff upper lip be damned - really upset. Even though ulluco has been one of the least successful of the Incan crops in terms of yield, I really like its colourful tubers. Just before throwing myself bodily into the grave with the victim, I discovered - miraculously - two tiny tubers of the green ulluco variety given to me by Frank van Keirsbilck last year and then, to cap it all, a couple of small yellow tubers of "Cusco market", the variety grown by Ben Gabel at Real Seeds. All is not yet lost on the ulluco front then - not quite. Here's hoping that Frank and others will have managed to hold onto their stocks more successfully than me; maybe with their assistance my collection, like the Bionic Man, can be rebuilt.

They say that oca is the second most important tuber crop in the Andes after the potato. I now know that its frosted tubers are quite the equal of its more popular counterpart when it comes to filling one's nostrils with the nauseating stench of decay. I could have sworn I was sorting through a bag of blighted potatoes. Yes, I've retreated indoors to cull yet more oca tubers. And I've got over 20 bags to sort through. Luckily (I suppose) the bags are small and the tubers relatively few - I left the obviously rotten ones outside. It's now clear that I optimistically allowed a few double agents through security only to have them self-destruct and contaminate the others in the comfort of my own home.

So - who are the glitzy standout performers of 2009? Rather than bore you with all the details, I'll bore you with a few of the details. At least I can guarantee no gushing and tearful acceptance speeches from the recipients. The winners of the 2009 Ocademy Awards in no particular order are:

0908 - 225g, "white" with red eyes. Good sized tubers.

0923 - 170g, "white" , no eye colour. Unfortunately many of the very nice large tubers this variety produced perished in the cold.

0916 - 240g, yellowish, no eye colour and coincidentally the first to flower and set seed. Pot was distorted by the large number of tightly packed tubers. Many of them didn't make it, which was a shame.

What I ought to do, perhaps, is follow the "Oca Productivity Index" protocol described here in IAP's Growing Oca blog. As the tubers continue to surprise me by decaying on the sly, I'll probably wait until next year before trying this.

By a strange coincidence (or is it?) all the varieties with the highest yields seem to be the ones with the short styled flowers. They'll need crossing with some of the other varieties next year. As for the class of 2009, a process of selection needs a process of rejection; I'll have to harden my heart and send some of my progeny off to that great compost heap in the sky. I might just find that a bit tricky.


IAP said...

Congratulations on getting the survivors through. Maybe I should have an attempt at breeding oca - it seems more exciting than growing the same old variety every year. I see you have left a comment on my 'Oca versus Frost' post. In fact you did this so quickly that I had not even finished the post. Good to know someone is interested! Anyway, I've added a bit more, and also completed the post where, despite disruption by the weather, I have some results which may be of interest to you.

IAP said...

For valuable varieties it's probably worth trimming the rotten parts off and seeing if the rest of the tuber keeps for propagation material. I left a mixture of frosted and unfrosted tubers in a poly bag for two days (bad idea) and the rot did not spread to any of the good tubers, so they are tough little blighters.

sealander said...

I've found the mashua relatively palatable when added to stews and casseroles - anything that is going to be cooked in the slowcooker for a few hours. Tried roasting them once though and the results were not good ;)

Rhizowen said...

Hello sealander

I haven't tried slow cooking with mashua. My attempts at eating them roasted merely leads to a powerful stimulation of the gag reflex. Maybe my body is trying to tell me something........

Perhaps Radix should offer a prize to the first person who comes up with a delicious (rather than just palatable) recipe for a mashua based dish.

Rhizowen said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

This year I have pitch with my mashuas. But I saved 6 tubers from two colors (Red and Mashua dragon). In the year 2010 I tried some colors more. Yesterday I become very big tubers in two kind of yellow from denmark and.
I harvest my oca in december and have a good Oca year.
Ulluco was very sadly, a lot of very little tubers. I heard, there ist possible a virus in most Ullucu plants...
I hope in the year 2010 mor luck for growing Mashua and Ulluco.
I find it very courageous to wait so long with the harvest. I did not dare that.
But I take the root bundle from Mashua in a pot and now it is in my little Cold glacehouse. I try ist. Perhaps I have luck.
I look forward much to yours report.
This year it is very heavy to get mashua tubers. Therefore I try to rearing cuttings on the window sill.
Best wishes CarpeDiem said...

sorry, I forgot something. I have a picture from some tubers on my homepage. a few tubers from all colors (Oca, Mashua ans Ulluco harvest 15.12.2009):
I Hope, this Link is ok.
I look also for Mashua recipes and found this:

Best wishes CarpeDiem

Rhizowen said...

Guten tag Carpe Diem

That's a lovely picture. I think I've lost virtually all my ullucos. Ullucos certainly do contain viruses and this must be affecting their yield. That said, I still think daylength restrictions are the biggest problem growers at our latitudes face with these Andean plants. The only answer is to breed better varieties.

Good luck with your plants in 2010

IAP said...

Hi Rhizowen, You sound like you know one end of a gene from the other, so I'll ask your opinion on this.
Last Spring one of my oca seed tubers sprouted about two weeks before the other (supposedly identical) ones. I marked it, and saved six of its offspring for seed tubers this winter. Now 5 of the 6 are showing sprouts while only one other tuber from the dozens I have saved are showing signs of life. Tubers should be clones, but how much variance is there likely to be from random mutations.
I have not yet decided if early sprouting is a good thing, but it has drawn my attention to the possibility of other (definitely beneficial) changes such as reduced day length sensitivity, which might occur. I'd be glad to hear your thoughs.

Rhizowen said...

Hi Ian

You flatter me. I know very little about these things. I think it all boils down to whether the changes are epigenetic, that's to say induced, or genetic - permanent. It's possible that a somaclonal mutation may have occurred which has altered the synthesis/ transport of auxins, which, if I remember correctly, control tuber sprouting. Alternatively some sort of epigenetic change as sometimes occurs in plant tissue culture may be responsible. In this instance bits of the DNA are shut down by the action of methyl groups which become attached to them. These effects sometimes persist for a few generations. If the early sprouting continues over several seasons, then it's likely that the change is permanent and is probably the result of somaclonal mutation. Hope that's slightly useful.

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