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.

8 comments:

Ian Pearson said...

Not a bad start.

You seem to have invented crowdsource plant-breeding.

Mybighair said...

I'd give them the benefit of the doubt to, potato's don't exactly produce bumper crops strait from true seed, so why should sweetpotato's.

Most tuberous plants grown from seed need a little grace in the first year, and the fist crop is inevitably disappointing. So considering that your seedlings did as well as some of the better cool/short season sweetpotato's would in a summer like we've had, I'd say that's a good result.

I look forward to seeing what they produce next season. You could have a winner yet.

Mr. H. said...

Hey, those look like my sweet potatoes.:) I'm holding some of mine over to have another go at it as well. Considering you grew them from seed rather than starts I would say they turned out pretty darn good and look forward to seeing how they do for you next season.

Frank said...

Your tubers have just about the same size as the ones over here, one variety was just a bit bigger, but was very promising from the beginning on and was grown in a tub, which absorbs more warmth during summer, the others were grown outside. I have some seeds left for next year's joy, if we could reduce the daylight by covering we may cross some in with T65, which could give some nice results. And a better summer would be useful as well!

Mark said...

Keep going! The road to tuberous Xanadu is long and hard!

Rhizowen said...

Thanks for the positive attitude everyone. I'll try and keep them alive through the winter. I agree with Ian that crowdsource plant breeding is the future for these as yet non-commercial crops. I reckon we can do at least as well as commercial plant breeders.

Cally said...

I love the unusual so after discovering Oca yesterday I've been hunting out more growers and was pleased to find your blog with Oca and more.

This is a great post, I'm hugely enjoying this post, well written, helpful and funny. I think you are spot on, the ones that do well (or at least do something) in sub-optimal conditions are probably ones to encourage in hopes of success in a good year, and goodness knows we need a good year after last year.

I'm in Scotland, we didn't even get the heat part of the year, just wind and regular torrential rain - humph. My vegetables were not at all happy which was a shame as I tried lots of new things this year. But I did learn something about their limits and tolerances.

I was wondering if you might add your garden to Folia the online gardening website (it's free). I'd love to see more people on their growing Oca and other unusual or challenging vegetables.

It's a great resource for gardeners and has helped me keep on top of my 800+ plantings with photo's, notes, journals, milestones etc. They have an extensive plant wiki and a seed stash section where people can also list seeds for swapping. Here's the link to my Folia page so you can see how it works: www.myfolia.com/gardener/CDfolia/invite.

Rhizowen said...

Cally - I'll check that out.

As regards adapting plants to new environments, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Most will fall, fail, snuff it, that's the way of natural selection. Breed, seed and then select. Great things can be achieved by sacrificing thousands. It's what nature does all the time.

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