As delighted as I was to have finally grown mauka, the Holy Grail of Inca root crops last year, I want to explore ways of producing a better crop. Pictures in Lost Crops of the Incas and this little one from the CIP website
seem to show a preponderance of swollen stems making up the bulk of the crop, rather than the roots about which I waxed lyrical a while ago.
To maximise yields, I'm attempting a modified version of the spud-in-a-bin technique: the unfortunate plant is subjected to regular avalanches of compost such that only the top third of it remains above the surface. In the case of potatoes this encourages tubers to form in the leaf axils, giving a very high yield for the area occupied by the bin. With mauka this will hopefully lead to stems - I quote verbatim from the above book - "the length and diameter of a person's forearm". We'll see.
As a strong advocate of decapitation (see previous post), I took a sharp knife and hacked off the tops of my two plants back in February. I could see some adventitious buds present at the junction between the stem and root collar. I planted them a little below the original soil level and waited for signs of activity. Seeing as the tops had been exposed to sub zero temperatures for several weeks and the pots were apparently frozen solid, I was more than a little concerned that I had blown it on the mauka front and I might have to beg plants from the ever-generous Frank van Keirsbilck. Call it incipient Post Harvest Traumatic Stress Syndrome if you like. Thankfully I was spared that indignity. The tops rooted quite easily and soon those dormant buds burst forth in pleasing profusion, as shown below:
Like the virile shoots poking through the compost, I was elevated from despondency to delight. Mauka seems to be a tough, but tasty cookie.
I allowed the twins (non-identical) to grow on for a few weeks, by which time they looked like this:
I potted them on at this stage. Another few weeks have gone by since then and I've decided that the stems are ready to be buried.
Grab the plants by their medusa-like top growth, thrust them into the bottom of suitably deep pots and then back fill with compost.
Below are the finished pots ready to grow on for a bit before planting out in May. Hopefully those stems will be swelling with every day that passes. I'll bury them even further when they go into the ground. I like the idea of a forearm-sized underground stem - one that could double as an offensive weapon as well as a food source. Mirabilis by name, miraculous by nature? Maybe I'll have an answer by the end of this year.