Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Kaukau v Cornwall - the Results

At about the same time as I harvested those oca seedlings, I decided to lift the kaukaus, the New Guinea sweetpotatoes, which I grew from seed this year.  As per usual, I was a bit late in doing this; sweetpotatoes don't like frost and don't grow at low temperatures - why would they? They're a warm weather plant and express their disapproval of our  conditions by producing piffling crops.

Papua New Guinea is located in the tropics, of course, but has extensive areas of sweetpotato cultivation in the cool highland regions.  The idea was that plants from high altitude areas might show some increased tolerance to the cool weather we tend to have during the months laughably referred to as summer.  Sweetpotato is well known to be a frighteningly heterozygous outcrosser; favourable combinations such as cold tolerance could theoretically pop up each time the random gene generator shuffles the deck and seeds are produced.  Over time, the plants best able to cope with cooler weather produce more seeds and this characteristic increases in frequency in their offspring.  Yes, folks, I'm taking about evolution.

Being a paid up member of the sow-it-and-see brigade, I decided to put this theory to the test.  And what of the results? Mixed - just like the genetics of the seeds themselves.

These are the Teptep roots, three of which showed some thickening; the other two didn't.  I quickly consigned those to the compost bin.

The Gwarawon brood all had beautiful red skins, or at least the ones that actually developed thickened roots did, only two in this instance.  As previously, I shoved the runners up into the compost.

As these pictures capture the awesomely paltry nature of the yield, I decided to take a few close-ups.

I think the string of sausages effect shown here is due to the cramped pot conditions prior to planting out.  That's my excuse.

The white Teptep might make a decent snack. I console myself with the knowledge that it's bigger than the average ulluco.

Some may brand me a simple-minded  apologist for the inadequacies of my kaukau plants - but I don't think so.  In their defence, I would point out that they withstood some fairly unfavourable conditions - stunted by my neglect, they were planted out late, during a period of drought in which our water supply dried up.  This did not exactly aid their establishment. Nor did the unsummery weather during the summer, when long days ought to have joined forces with higher temperatures and plentiful sunshine to get those roots swelling, but didn't.   It's remarkable that they did anything at all.

OK, so you think I'm being unduly kind to these feeble specimens?  What's clear is that it isn't beyond the wit of humble horticulturists to sow and evaluate sweetpotatoes in the privacy of their own gardens. I managed it, under distinctly suboptimal conditions. Come to think of it, suboptimal conditions are exactly what's needed to locate those exceptional individuals with the ability to shrug off the worst our weather can throw at them.
I may even have another go next year.

If you think you can do better, I hereby throw down the Radix gauntlet and challenge you to breed a better sweetpotato for British conditions - and then share it with me.
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