This blog is one year old today. Here's hoping I have enough puff to blow out the single candle on the birthday cake tonight. Yesterday, in anticipation of this historic event, I finally got out and started scratching around in the beds for the remnants of my plants. Nice, I thought, to have something to celebrate rather than getting all weepy and elegaic about what might have been were it not for the coldest winter ever. Or at least the coldest winter since a few years ago.
Initial appearances were not good, recalling the Max Ernst painting Europe After The Rain. Appearances can be deceptive, of course. It's not what's above ground that matters with dormant root crops, after all. Dig deeper.
So that's what I started to do. My miserable-as-sin farmer's persona dropped from me as I spaded the soil near the first mauka's last known location. Witnesses tell me that the corner of my mouth twitched with something vaguely reminiscent of pleasure. Here's why:
The maukas have managed to survive a cold winter - and they've done it in style. The peculiarly fattened stems more closely resemble the pictures of Andean mauka than the large roots my plants produced last year. I'm guessing that the overall yield is higher, although I haven't got round to weighing them yet.
Although not exactly the forearm-sized monsters described in Lost Crops of the Incas, I'm quite pleased with the stems, both in terms of their size and overall yield. They bear more than a passing resemblance resemblance to cassava roots, a fact noted previously in Lost Crops. Mauka seems to be similarly tough and might fulfil the same kind of role as a back-up food supply when other crops fail. If the stems taste as good as the roots we tried last year, this won't be much of a hardship.
But what of my pride and joy, my oca seedlings? Pride comes before a fall, they say. Thus it was with some trepidation that I proceeded to the oca patch. Trapped high up in their elevated pots, I feared the fierce clutch of the frost on those delicate tubers. The remains of the stems were soggy, bleached and formless, hanging limply from the rim of each pot. Their decay seemed to extend deep into the compost within. Hesitating for a moment, I pulled the pot of RX0917 from the ground. Among the pallid, squishy, frosted tubers (damn), there were several survivors (hooray!):
Unlike Bruce Springsteen, these ocas were not born in the USA, nor in any other part of the Americas. They're as Cornish as pasties, tin mines and summer holiday washouts. RX0917 resembles the "Amarillo/Khusioka" type, with pale yellow skin and pinkish eyes. I must confess myself pleased with the yield, bearing in mind that about half the tubers were lost to the effects of frost. I was intending to lift and photograph several more varieties, but my camera batteries began to fail at this point and I only managed to secure one more image before they finally gave up the ghost:
RX0919 looks a lot like the standard reddish oca. Still, it shows that there is diversity in the seedlings; others, not yet photographed were white; some resembled RX0917, except slightly flushed with pink. There were some impressively large tubers among them. When time and camera batteries allow, I will return and photograph them all. In any case, I have proved, to my own satisfaction at least, that oca breeding in the UK is perfectly feasible.
So whither Radix in 2010? Well, buoyed up by success on the oca front, I intend to carry on exploring the potential of this excellent plant. I'd also like to do a decent comparison of the three mauka varieties now in my possession and crack the mystery of flowering and seed production. I expect I'll grow yacon again and a few of the other Inca lost crops.
Futurology is a notoriously imprecise science; it seems likely, however, that oil prices and thus fertiliser costs will continue to rise. Come the hour, comes the crop: nitrogen fixing tubers would surely be beneficial in a biologically diverse and productive garden like yours. I'm talking about hopniss of course and maybe even talet, the hog peanut - two legume species I'd like to investigate further.
While my minders aren't looking, I'll continue to scour the planet for likely candidates for Radix to grow and study. I may even sneak some under the radar and onto the plot in secluded places. You'll be the first to know how I (and they) get on.
Oh - and here's said cake with single candle: