Thursday, 18 August 2011

Gotcha!

I've just harvested my first few oca seeds. That's why I'm all smiles.


The pods from which these seeds were collected lay hidden in the lush foliage the plants have been producing recently. I noticed them while I was bagging up some other pods.  As I've mentioned before, oca pods are small, unremarkable in appearance and restrained in colour. It's easy to overlook them. That said, they do pack a Lilliputian punch - on several occasions I've been pelted with miniscule buck shot as a pod explodes close to my face.  It doesn't hurt, but can cause a momentary loss of concentration - not what you need when you're trying to retain your balance and insert some awkwardly aligned pods into a tiny little envelope.

Unripe pods tend to hang pendulously; as they approach maturity they raise their heads and finally disgorge their cargo courtesy of slingshot arils that catapult the seeds up and out.  Even if your oca plants aren't setting any pods, you can witness a similar effect with the common weed Oxalis corniculata. It uses the self same explosive dispersal mechanism.  What this means of course, is that seed harvest is a fiddly, not to say tedious, process, punctuated by moments of high drama and relies on due diligence on the part of the gardener; with oca pods, timing is everything. I think of it as a cross between plant breeding and bomb disposal.  Anyway, I grabbed the pods from which these seeds were about to escape and stuffed them into an envelope; within a few minutes they were out.

And here's something you don't see very often: a volunteer oca seedling flowering amongst those rocoto chillies I mentioned in my last post. With a bit of luck (and some obliging bumble bees) it should be possible to get some of these to complete the oca lifecycle, seed to seed, with zero effort on my part. Now that's the kind of plant breeding that really appeals to me.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Budzaburstin

Flower buds, I mean - oca flower buds.

The unsummery weather we've had until fairly recently, with heavy rain and strong winds, doesn't seem to have fazed the ocas at all.  They're keen to give their all in the Reproduction Sweepstake. I'll just have to follow on behind as per usual, with little envelopes to collect the output of the random oca generator.



Flowers have been appearing sporadically for a couple of weeks, but it looks like the high season is now upon us. I can see plenty of my 100+ plants with plenty of flowers. Let the riotous season of cross pollination commence.

One concern I have is the relative scarcity of bumble bees so far this season. I'm pretty sure that Oca Acres was fairly ringing to their buzzing last year. This year is different: hardly any were to be seen until the last couple of weeks.  I don't think I even glimpsed a single honeybee until a few days ago, which is highly unusual. Apart from my obvious worries about the decline of well-loved insects, I don't really want to go back to the dark (daft?) days of hand pollination if I can avoid it. The bees and hoverflies seemed to do a much better job than me without the general tetchiness and backache I experienced when transferring pollen.

I notice that one of my self-sown seedlings is now in flower. This isn't Prima, but the second plant to appear, henceforth to be known as Compay Segundo.  If this and other similar seedlings flower and set seed, the whole oca lifecycle will have been achieved alfresco - another step in the long road to acclimatising the plant to our conditions.

And here's a sight you don't see very often: volunteer seedling ocas appearing as the understory amongst some rocoto chillies (Capsicum pubescens).  If this sort of polyculture cropping appeals to you, head to the Growing Oca blog, where Ian seems to have perfected the art of oca associations in the vegetable bed. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away at finding a day- neutral, heavy yielding, tasty and ravishingly beautiful oca.  Wish me luck and never mind that it's started raining again.
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