Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Iceman Cometh

I enjoy a crisp autumn morning as much as the next person.  Except that I don't, or at least I recognise that there's no pleasure to be had without pain.  A crisp autumn morning means only one thing for the grower of late-maturing Andean root crops - frosted plants.  My fervent wish was for a few more weeks of life for my plants; that wish has not been granted. I'm not exactly choking back the tears, but I can't pretend that I'm anything less than disappointed.

Looking over Oca Acres this morning, it is easy to see the devastation that has been visited on the ocas, mauka and yacons.  The latter are blackened, with the shrivelled yacon hybrid flowers hanging limply from the stems; the maukas have not just been nipped by frost, but have apparently been been frozen to the roots;  formerly lush oca plants lie slumped, with eerily bleached stems seemingly drained of blood, like the victims of a vampire attack. 

I won't dig the ocas up just yet.  I 'll probably wait a while, so that the dying stems can pump their last vestiges of life force down into the tubers, which should be forming by now.

I say "should be forming" advisedly. Reduced daylight hours, low temperatures, low intensity sunlight - that's  a recipe for disappointment if you're hoping that your tubers will bulk up quickly at this time of year.  Guaranteed.

All crops can fail; all crops do fail. The knack is to reduce the odds of failure to acceptable levels.  And yield ought not to be a dirty word when growing a crop of Andean tubers.  The remedy is simple, although not easy: breed better adapted varieties, that are actually fit for purpose at our latitude and are able to tuberise during the summer. That's the magic, not silver, bullet I'm looking for.   

I'm hoping that this year's seed crop will be sufficient to enable me grow yet more seedlings next year.   I'm also hoping that I'll be able to share some seeds with the various TOSsers who've expressed an interest in taking part in Project Oca.  One thing's for sure, there'll be no more oca flowers, seed pods or seeds from my plants this year.    


Madeline McKeever said...

Sorry to hear about the frost. I really admire your persistance with oca, although I didn't like it much to eat and, when I grew it. It was just a bunch of pink marbles.

Emma said...

My tuber beds look much the same. I must get out there and see what's what. The yacon was just about to flower, as well :(

Vegetable Heaven said...

I only grew oca for the first time last year and I seem to remember that the tubers kept swelling long after the foliage was knocked out?

IAP said...

A similar sight to mine. But I continue to monitor vital life-signs in my patients.

Anonymous said...

Don't hopeless.
If the frost does not penetrate deeply, they will survive. Cover it.
With leaves, compost and/or grounds...

Anonymous said...

Don't hopeless.
If the frost does not penetrate deeply, they will survive. Cover it.
With leaves, compost and/or grounds...

Mark said...

Pity you could not transfer the genes for frost resistance from Mentha pulegium. Some seeds I disposed of in a pot outside they germinated got frosted(the soil was all weird and heaved up with frosty ice crystals, looked like minature moonscape) and did not notice as far as I can tell, still growing away quite happily. Hopefully your ocas will have put enough into their tubers for you to get some. I wonder if this is what happened with potato originally, people just kept breeding for seed till early varieties appeared fortuitously?

Rhizowen said...

Madeline - thanks for your commiserations. Marble size is a prime indicator of oca's current inability to tuberise during the summer, hence my attempts to select for dayneutral plants. As to flavour - the Quechua people classify oca into two broad groups - the sweeter ones - wak'yu and the less palatable khaya - the latter being freeze dried.

Emma - sorry to hear about the fate of your plants. all the more reason to breed some better varieties

IAP - it could be that although frosted, they are still swelling below ground. I hope so.

Thanks anonymous

That's interesting Mark. I've never grown pennyroyal from seed before. Have you tried Mentha requienii? Here's hoping for something below ground.

Rhizowen said...

Thanks vegetable Heaven - that seems to be the general opinion. I'd still prefer plants that did most of their tuberisation before the frosts hit.

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