Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Ocabliteration?

The cold snap has abated and 2011 is here. Time to see what effect some exceptionally cold weather has had on the poor old ocas, which I was unable to lift at an appropriate time.  I fear the worst.  Now it's time to see whether those fears have been realised.

I spent a pleasant few hours on my hands and knees at Oca Acres the other day, rescuing what remains of my oca crop. There's something truly life affirming about plunging one's hands into icy, wet soil. Maybe the pain it causes reminds me that I'm still alive and this isn't a nightmare, it's real.

Avid readers will know that I've been using open-ended pots plunged in the soil to enable me to pack more plants in while keeping their tubers conveniently separate.  I had reckoned without the ferocity of the frost, which seems to have penetrated all above ground soil or compost located in pots, with predictable results for any frost sensitive plant structures.

To compound my annoyance, those plants with nice, tightly clustered tubers around their stem base have taken the worst hit of all.  Let's just say that I'll be adjusting my growing methods in future.  I can see two options:

1) Harvest at a reasonable date before the onset of hard frosts, say the beginning of November.

2) Find another site where I can conduct trials on a more appropriate scale, without recourse to pots.

The third possibility, to disappear on the back of water buffalo and forgo any further contact with humanity (or alternative root crops), is currently in reserve if I mess up again.

Here are some of the tubers from seedlings raised in 2010. Many other quite promising looking ones have been reduced to mush, unfortunately.  I don't think any taste testing will be going on this year.




I rather like the shape and colour of these.
To the best of my knowledge, neither of its parents had this tuber colour, but the riotous pollination free-for-all back in the heady days of 2009 makes it impossible to be sure.






Due to differences in pot configuration, location and maybe some other unknown factors, all the tubers from my reference collection, along with the tubers from last year's seedlings have been frozen - they are all dead. This is kind of like last year, when a spell in intensive care prevented me acting opportunely to harvest the tubers, only worse; I pulled through that experience, as did most of my ocas, but this lot won't. When you see the words "crop failure" in a seed catalogue, this is what it means: wailing banshee growers condemned to wander in a twlight world, their spirits unable to rest.

Actually, I'm bloodied but unbowed.  I'm reminded of Galvarino, the 16th century Mapuche folk hero, from Chile.  Captured by the Spanish invaders, both his hands were chopped off and he was sent home to his compatriots as a warning. Undaunted, he returned to fight again, with two knives strapped to his wrists in place of his missing appendages.  The interwebs describe his attitude as "badass". Following his never-say-die example, I will rise again, a trowel in each hand and crack the small matter of locating a day neutral variety of Oxalis tuberosa. Up from the ashes grow the ocas of success.  Happy New Year.

5 comments:

ben gabel said...

Don't abandon all hope!

I have been wondering about an alternative selection procedure. After several years of painstakingly growing oca seed to get carefully nutured . . . crap oca plants. So now I'm thinking differently:

How about sowing X thousand oca seeds in cells, plant into the field without any labelling etc, and harvest the whole damn lot on one set date , say Nov 30th.

Obviously, probably none of them will have made tubers by then. But you only want the one that has.

thoughts?

Rhizowen said...

Hi Ben

Don't worry, I'm not throwing in the towel just yet.

Your suggestion seems to me to be the most effective way to proceed, bearing in mind that oca is highly heterozygous and no doubt carries a considerable genetic load. I have been considering the same approach myself. I'm reminded of von Sengbusch, who grew several million lupin plants before identifying sweet varieties with indehiscent pods.

The main difficulty I can see is producing sufficient quantities of seeds and the costs involved in managing such an enterprise, which might consist of a network of sowers and growers - a plant breeder's club. I'm pretty sure that a few years of dedicated, medium scale effort (say 10,000 - 100,000 plants a year) would yield some interesting results. I'm still looking for that alternative crop philanthropist with deep pockets.

Mark said...

Condolences on your oca tragedy. Ben Gabel's suggestion definitely seems sensible.

orrflo said...

Owen, sorry you were too late... I did manage to save most of mine, and still have to harvest some sown ones who are in a cool inside spot, I will try and survive some as well, some still have leaves (without artificial light!). Ben's idea sounds good, there are indeed some practical issues, and there's another thing: some of these sown ocas do produce a nice crop, up to the standards of the 'fixed' varieties. So, if you harvest too early, you risk of losing some potentially nice varieties who can be grown over here, and it's in fact easier and faster to grow them over here, then to go searching them all the way overseas, South America or New Zealand or wherever. I do have some fine-looking new varieties from Owen's seeds, perhaps some 15 or even more, the rest did produce very poorly. And I have the feeling that these sown ocas do set seeds easier, which is another advantage, perhaps that's just re-selecting on seed-producing ocas...

IAP said...

I've also lost those in pots (even the ones in the greenhouse!), but almost all of those in outdoor beds are, surprisingly, fine - protected by a layer of snow during the coldest periods.
You could sink the pots in to the soil to protect roots from frost, but it's all starting to sound like too much hard work - certainly for 100,000 plants!

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