Thursday, 5 May 2011

How Now, Kaukau?

Kaukau, in case you didn't know, is the Tok Pisin word for sweetpotato, pronounced "Cow Cow". Yes, please give a warm welcome to my my first Papua New Guinea kaukau seedlings.

Not being a kaukau expert, I'm not really qualified to say how well they're doing, nor whether they'll prove any more successful than any other sweetpotatoes in our climate.  What I do know is that they germinated easily and look vigorous. The seeds came from fairly high altitudes in the Finisterre Range in Raikos, Madang Province. The weather there is, apparently,  hot during the day, but cool to cold at night and often misty. Teptep and Gwarawon are two of the possible locations from which they were collected, but I don't actually know for sure.

New Guinea is a fascinating place, with a wide range of climates, from tropical to alpine.  The sweet potato is not a native there, but was introduced, rumour has it, about 300 years ago and is now the predominant staple food for millions of people.  Estimates of the number of varieties run into the thousands, with wide differences in flesh and skin colour.  With that amount of biodiversity knocking around, it's quite possible that varieties with superior cold tolerance may have popped up as well.

I don't have the time or space for this at the moment, but I really think the traditional  mound method of growing kauakau might catch on. It's quite similar to the "hugelkultur" type beds currently being promoted by Sepp Holzer, an Austrian farmer and permaculturist.  Perhaps by aligning the mound's slope correctly, a hot sun trap could be created for the sweetpotatoes, allowing me to extend its cultivation into the bleak and inhospitable foothills of Bodmin Moor. Other geographically challenged people could do likewise.  But for now, I'll just limit myself to savouring these fruits of Papua New Guinea's agrobiodiversity first hand:  kaukau, gutpela long bungim yu!

5 comments:

IAP said...

Interesting. Those mounds look like hard work to me tho'.

Vegetable Heaven said...

You do like a challenge!

Mark said...

It looks like it could be interesting, the mounds could be similar to the waru-waru practiced in the Andean culture's agriculture. Good luck to you down in the tropical depths of Bodmin Moor, from the glacial northern nether regions of Glasgow.

Rhizowen said...

Hi IAP I notice that Sepp Holzer uses a digger for his mounds.

HI Mark - this mounding seems to be quite a common feature in various cultures so I infer that it must be effective. Frost protection is certainly one of the advantages claimed for it in Papua New Guinea. How are the Amphicarpaea seedlings doing?

Rhizowen said...

Sorry Veg Heaven - you got missed out. Challenge? getting hold of the seeds took 15 years. That was the biggest challenge. They germinated very easily so it will be fun to see them draped over Bodmin Moor and Glasgow ere long.

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