Thursday, 29 September 2011

Mauka: Man Bites Dog (Again)

Yawn. Once bitten, twice bored. The shove-'em-in-a-shed technique of inducing flowering in mauka that I first used last year  has worked again.  Same 11 hour day, for about a month - same result.  Frank van Keirsbilck has been trying his own version of this technique and he tells me that his plants are also in bud.



The first up is Blanca, with flowers opening now.  Both 208001 and Roja are snapping at Blanca's heels, with the beginnings of inflorescences easily discernible at the ends of their stems.  I hurried out specially in my pyjamas, before the sun was up, to get this shot of Blanca in all its understated glory.  As I mentioned before, the flowers seem to open, not in the afternoon as might have been expected from the behaviour of other members of the genus Mirabilis, but at night. Four o'clock flower indeed.

Although this is far too late in the autumn to reasonably expect the flowers to be pollinated and produce a viable crop of anthocarps outdoors, it at least shows that mauka is amenable to this sort of unsophisticated daylength manipulation.  All you need is a shed, a mauka plant and a fairly accurate timepiece. Interested?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mauka: Expansa by Name, Expansive by Nature

As the nights draw in, it feels like the right time to be taking stock of the various successes and failures at Oca Acres.

Let's start with a success story. This is me modelling a young mauka seedling a few months ago.  For some unaccountable reason, I seem to have clean fingernails - apologies for the oversight.




These same mauka seedlings have matured into vast, hydra-like monsters, bulldozing all in their path. Usually mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) can hardly be described as a good neighbour, what with its unabashed delight in strangling its bedfellows. This year, though, things are different and I feel an unfamiliar wave of sympathy for it; the poor thing has been utterly trounced by the march of the maukas. This was the state of play back in the early summer - that's the mashua at the bottom left.

That was then; this is now:
The vertical object at the back is a shovel, a long handled one; the plants are now about a metre or so high and considerably more than that in total length. They're refreshingly vigorous.  Of the mashua, nothing can be seen.





The weather for the last few months has been disappointing - nothing new there: lower than average temperatures and lower than average sunshine. Apparently it's been the coolest summer for eighteen years.

The maukas, however, seem to have been wholly unconcerned by any aspect of these temperature and insolation anomalies.  About the only things to check their growth were a few aphid infestations on a couple of shoots, but even those seem to have passed.  Given reasonable levels of care at the beginning of the season, mauka does seem to be a toughie and, let's not forget, actually tastes rather good.  It should also be remembered that it is a rare crop even in the Andes, where the total area under cultivation is reported to be around 10 hectares. Scary. To the best of my knowledge, this patch is probably the biggest one between here and Belgium, where Frank van Keirsbilck grows quite a bit of it.

Frank has produced roots weighing more than 2kg from a single plant.  Mine have never been quite so large, but my main interest is in trying to duplicate those descriptions of earthed-up stems thicker than a man's forearm, which feature in Lost Crops of the Incas.  The best I've managed so far are these from a couple of years ago. There is still much to learn about this plant and how to cultivate it, but I do like its attitude. Rare it may be, but it's also raring to go. Up and at 'em, Mauka!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Will the Cycle Be Unbroken?

I sincerely hope so, because these are my very first self-set oca pods to appear on the self-sown oca seedlings that I mentioned previously.  I've been away for a while and now I'm back; seems like it's a case of absence makes the pods grow longer. With a bit of luck these may yet ripen, thereby demonstrating that the whole oca life cycle can be completed, seed to seed, outdoors, in the Cornish climate.  I know it's not over until the fat pod pops, but I'm really quite excited by the prospect of this latest development.
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