Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hot Date at Dartington

The question was: what to do with a scruffy collection of surplus-to-requirements Andean root and tuber crops? The answer, obviously, was to set up an Andean polyculture bed at Dartington - Schumacher College, to be precise.

As I have been known to pontificate incessantly about the value of conservation through dissemination, it is wholly appropriate that I should now act on my beliefs. I proposed the idea to Bethan Stagg, Lecturer in Ecological Horticulture at the college and she seemed to like it.

So it was that I rocked up at the college with some tatty looking oca, mashua, yacon and mauka plants and we wandered off to a patch of ground next to one of the college's buildings.







The plot chosen by Bethan was a sunny, otherwise unoccupied bed; just across the path, within easy lobbing distance of a blighted potato, was the Agroforestry Research Trust's iconic forest garden.  Ideal.








My comrade in the planting was Dave Hamilton, author, blogger and horticultural tutor at Schumacher College. I'd never met Dave before, so what better way to break the ice than to discuss the design of our Andean tuber polyculture and then rehome these horticultural waifs.

The theory is this: the yacon will form a tall framework at the back, which the mashua, courtesy of its prehensile petioles and scandent habit, will scramble up with aplomb. The oca and mauka, with their spreading, sprawling growth, will elbow out or smother any impertinent weeds that challenge them. I make no claims, expressed or implied about the authenticity of this combination - it just seemed to make the most sense to me.  The problem is the timing: it's late and the plants are shamefully small, no -  let's be honest here - stunted.  It's not impossible, however, that summer will return and their roots will reach into the deep, rain-recharged soils. If those conditions are met, I see no reason why they shouldn't romp away. That and a long mild autumn and perhaps all will not be lost. 

If this year's experiment proves successful, perhaps it might be possible to try something similar, bigger, involving the students.  Bethan has hinted that this is not an entirely ludicrous idea.

Following a delicious Schumacher lunch (thanks Bethan!), I bade my farewells and headed back for Cornwall, the homeland of Radix.

I may not be able to get over to Devon and check on progress as often as I would like, but think only this of it: That there's some corner of a foreign field. That is forever Radix. (Sorry, Rupert Brooke, but I couldn't resist it).

2 comments:

Emma said...

I'm sure we can persuade Dave to give us an update or two :)

DavidT said...

How random! i met dave a few weeks ago one the college trip to te scily isles, im a rosewarne student myself, it was brilliant to meet someone other than me that knows about andean plants! its amazing how many people have never even heard of them! I am propably going up there in september to have a look around if i can hitch a lift with their tutor so i'll have to have a look at your work! :D

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