Monday, 11 October 2010

Tussling With Talet

In the polyculture cage fight currently raging across my oca bed, it seems like the talet (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is winning.

A couple of the subterranean talet seeds popped up amongst my oca seedlings in the spring and in an act of sentimentality, I decided to allow them leave to grow.  I was also curious to see how the two plants would co-exist.  Now I know.

Oca is no slouch when it comes to suppressing the growth of other plants, but it seems to have met its match in talet.  This plant could qualify as Cornish kudzu.


The talet is straddling the ocas at a height of about a metre and has now begun flowering profusely, presumably as a response to shortening daylengths; pods will surely follow.   The aerial seeds are small and hard and although perfectly edible after boiling, they lack the big fat wow factor of the subterranean seeds.

As it is above, so it is below - hopefully.  Parting the dense mat of oca stems and foliage, there's ample evidence of rampaging talet shoots, each bearing a single cleistogamous flower at its end.  These pollinate without opening and then burrow into the soil where they swell into nice rotund beans, assuming the slugs don't graze them off first.  Like oca, they're frost tender, so, in theory at least, it would be possible to harvest both together when they've succumbed to the cold.  If your enthusiasm for plunging your hands into frozen soil begins to wane, I'm wondering whether a couple of chickens might enjoy scratching around for the seeds while you wait for the feeling to return to your fingers.

So there you have it, a vigorous nitrogen-fixing groundcover which produces delicious beans - it should surely be on the wish list of all aspiring polyculturists.  Free machete with every packet.

7 comments:

IAP said...

Looks kind of rowdy. But I can see it working with J. artichokes, or corn.
Is it purely a sprawler, or does it climb? There is one stem in the middle photo which seems to be twining. If so it might work over a lower crop if support is provided.

Vegetable Heaven said...

I learn something every day - my brain's full now - no more today!

I like the idea of letting chickens scratch the pods up but you do realise they'll try anything once? You might not get any for yourself, unless they are seriously hard.

Rhizowen said...

Hi Ian - it does climb. I erected a little tripod for it, which blew down in some strong winds we had recently. The aerial, twining stems produce the aerial seeds. The horizontal stems, which are produced from the axils of the aerial stems produce the subterranean seeds. Traditionally it is grown in cornfields in Mexico.

Veg Heaven - i expect they'd get a taste for them - they're often big and juicy. I bet they'd go for the ocas too. Could be an entertaining way to see your crop demolished.

orrflo said...

It certainly climbs, I have some that are over two metres high already. What's even a better climber is amphicarpaea edgeworthii, I guess the largest shoots can reach some three metres. That one isn't flowering yet, it seems to be quite late. I placed one in the greenhouse, and it's concurential with the melothria, which shouldn't have been there, but well, there it was... I'm pretty sure that my 'early' variety will produce lots of seeds this year, and it certainly isn't as invasive (up to now) as the other one...

Mark said...

This talet sounds more and more promising.

Mark said...

DO you have any rhizobia? Plus if you require more oca breeders, I would be happy to oblige.

Rhizowen said...

Hi Mark

I'll have a look for some apios nodules in the spring and send them to you - I've found them to be an effective inoculant for talet

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