I've been thinking about rescuing what remains of my root crops from the ground - if the frost don't get 'em the molluscs will. Up and out they must come or I will be consumed by anxiety and guilt. And as it was a beautiful sunny afternoon today, I decided to liberate at least some of my literally-lost crops of the Incas, starting of course with more of the oca seedlings.
The losses I had discovered previously, when I lifted the first tubers last week, continued through all the pots. I would estimate that between half and two thirds of the tubers were either partially or completely frosted. This will make valid yield comparisons a bit of a nightmare. But is an oca pot half empty or half full? It still leaves tubers for replanting this spring.
It's also possible to draw a few conclusions about the performance of the different seedlings which ranged from unimpressive (no tubers - R.I.P.) to impressive (goodly numbers of usefully sized tubers).
The most obvious characteristic of the tubers, their colour, showed limited variation, with the majority being either pale ("white") or yellowish. There were only three varieties with red skins out of a total of twenty two that made it to harvest.
I decided to take a a desultory glance at the mashuas, half hoping, I suppose, that the frost would have either killed them or rendered them palatable. Or maybe both. Three varieties seemed to have survived and yielded well: "Colombian White", "Red" and "Purple". None of my speckled types pulled through. Bearing in mind that 2010 is IYB (International Year of Biodiversity), I felt a twinge of sadness at this loss and a rising determination to find some way of turning this culinary ugly duckling into a swan, or at least disguising its less appealing traits. Like the fact that it tastes unpleasant. We've got to help this plant mastermind a borstal breakout into the horticultural mainstream somehow. Digressing egregiously once again - how's about we make 2011 International Year of Agrobiodiversity? Cos that's what life - as we know it - depends on.
Peering into the ulluco pots next, I feared the worst - and those fears turned out to be justified. My ulluco collection has been slaughtered, decimated, annihilated. Pot after pot yielded nothing. Now I was a little upset. Stiff upper lip be damned - really upset. Even though ulluco has been one of the least successful of the Incan crops in terms of yield, I really like its colourful tubers. Just before throwing myself bodily into the grave with the victim, I discovered - miraculously - two tiny tubers of the green ulluco variety given to me by Frank van Keirsbilck last year and then, to cap it all, a couple of small yellow tubers of "Cusco market", the variety grown by Ben Gabel at Real Seeds. All is not yet lost on the ulluco front then - not quite. Here's hoping that Frank and others will have managed to hold onto their stocks more successfully than me; maybe with their assistance my collection, like the Bionic Man, can be rebuilt.
They say that oca is the second most important tuber crop in the Andes after the potato. I now know that its frosted tubers are quite the equal of its more popular counterpart when it comes to filling one's nostrils with the nauseating stench of decay. I could have sworn I was sorting through a bag of blighted potatoes. Yes, I've retreated indoors to cull yet more oca tubers. And I've got over 20 bags to sort through. Luckily (I suppose) the bags are small and the tubers relatively few - I left the obviously rotten ones outside. It's now clear that I optimistically allowed a few double agents through security only to have them self-destruct and contaminate the others in the comfort of my own home.
So - who are the glitzy standout performers of 2009? Rather than bore you with all the details, I'll bore you with a few of the details. At least I can guarantee no gushing and tearful acceptance speeches from the recipients. The winners of the 2009 Ocademy Awards in no particular order are:
0908 - 225g, "white" with red eyes. Good sized tubers.
0923 - 170g, "white" , no eye colour. Unfortunately many of the very nice large tubers this variety produced perished in the cold.
0916 - 240g, yellowish, no eye colour and coincidentally the first to flower and set seed. Pot was distorted by the large number of tightly packed tubers. Many of them didn't make it, which was a shame.
What I ought to do, perhaps, is follow the "Oca Productivity Index" protocol described here in IAP's Growing Oca blog. As the tubers continue to surprise me by decaying on the sly, I'll probably wait until next year before trying this.
By a strange coincidence (or is it?) all the varieties with the highest yields seem to be the ones with the short styled flowers. They'll need crossing with some of the other varieties next year. As for the class of 2009, a process of selection needs a process of rejection; I'll have to harden my heart and send some of my progeny off to that great compost heap in the sky. I might just find that a bit tricky.