Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Ulluchristmas

At last I think I've found a future for ulluco: not as a crop, but rather as an edible Christmas tree substitute. The plants look quite attractive with their glossy foliage and brightly coloured baubles hanging from slender threads. Very festive.  Or at least they would if I had taken a little bit more care of these windowsill specimens and kept them them neat and tidy.  I've done it in previous years and the effect was quite good when I kept one on my desk.  The tubers eventually go green, but are still edible if required and seem to make good tough stock for planting in the spring.

One thing I did discover this year was that two of the other varieties (not shown here) seemed happy to tuberise successfully at fairly cool temperatures under a prolonged daylength regime of about 14 hours.  The next step, obviously, is to try and cross these two and produce true ulluco seed.  The question is: are they diploid, triploid or just plain debilitated?   That's something that will have to wait until 2011 for distended stomachs to contract, inquisitiveness to return and days to lengthen.   Merry Christmas.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Ice Cold at Oca Acres

Oca Acres is well and truly frozen. Unlike Marvin Gaye, who famously heard it through the grapevine, I wasn't really as aware of the seriousness of the impending plunge in temperatures as I should have been.

Forwarned is forearmed; complacent gets a kicking. So, like last year, I have been caught out with my ocas unharvested. Whether this surprisingly precipitous start to winter is connected with climate change, I have no idea, although the loss of Arctic sea ice has been implicated in last year's cold snap. Then there's the not inconsequential matter of the North Atlantic Oscillation.  Rather than spend the rest of my days struggling to interpret climate science, let's just say that my plans to plant an avocado orchard may be on hold for a while.  Shame, as I like avocados.

Me and Marvin share this much in common: I'm concerned that I'm bout to lose my mind over the whole business. I wonder how deep the frost has penetrated. I wonder how much longer the cold weather will continue. I wonder how many tubers will survive and how many will be lost.  I've built up a collection of over 140 genetically unique oca varieties; to part with it through what might be characterised by the less-than-charitable as negligence - now that would be truly shameful.  And this year I can't plead extenuating circumstances, other than my innate indolence.  The secret of good comedy, is, so they say, timing.  This must be even more true in the case of gardening.  Due to other commitments, I let things slide and may now be paying the price.

Rather than an exercise in grovelling self-abasement and an attempt to elicit sympathetic comments on my blog, I see this as strong reinforcement of my gut instincts.   It is clear that I need to decide a cut off date for the oca harvest, as I've previously considered and then stick to it. The beginning of November seems appropriate in this area. This would also allow me to sort the good-doers from the no-hopers in a systematic fashion: I could weigh them in the balance and those found wanting could easily be eliminated through our digestive systems. But if you feel like sending me your comiserations and condolences, don't let me stop you. Love me, pity me, but don't ignore me.

As I won't be able to harvest the tubers for a while yet, I draw some comfort from this little packet of oca seeds, the product of pods picked in haste before the first frosts.  Lacking the necessary slaves to record their parentage in painstaking detail, I opted for the happy, mixed blend approach.  I like to think that there is strength in diversity and that the alleles for the very necessary day-neutral tuberisation response are lurking in there somewhere.
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