Radix and the One Candled Cake

This blog is one year old today. Here's hoping I have enough puff to blow out the single candle on the birthday cake tonight. Yesterday, in anticipation of this historic event, I finally got out and started scratching around in the beds for the remnants of my plants. Nice, I thought, to have something to celebrate rather than getting all weepy and elegaic about what might have been were it not for the coldest winter ever. Or at least the coldest winter since a few years ago.

Initial appearances were not good, recalling the Max Ernst painting Europe After The Rain. Appearances can be deceptive, of course. It's not what's above ground that matters with dormant root crops, after all. Dig deeper.

So that's what I started to do. My miserable-as-sin farmer's persona dropped from me as I spaded the soil near the first mauka's last known location. Witnesses tell me that the corner of my mouth twitched with something vaguely reminiscent of pleasure. Here's why:

The maukas have managed to survive a cold winter - and they've done it in style. The peculiarly fattened stems more closely resemble the pictures of Andean mauka than the large roots my plants produced last year. I'm guessing that the overall yield is higher, although I haven't got round to weighing them yet.

Although not exactly the forearm-sized monsters described in Lost Crops of the Incas, I'm quite pleased with the stems, both in terms of their size and overall yield. They bear more than a passing resemblance resemblance to cassava roots, a fact noted previously in Lost Crops. Mauka seems to be similarly tough and might fulfil the same kind of role as a back-up food supply when other crops fail. If the stems taste as good as the roots we tried last year, this won't be much of a hardship.

But what of my pride and joy, my oca seedlings? Pride comes before a fall, they say. Thus it was with some trepidation that I proceeded to the oca patch. Trapped high up in their elevated pots, I feared the fierce clutch of the frost on those delicate tubers. The remains of the stems were soggy, bleached and formless, hanging limply from the rim of each pot. Their decay seemed to extend deep into the compost within. Hesitating for a moment, I pulled the pot of RX0917 from the ground. Among the pallid, squishy, frosted tubers (damn), there were several survivors (hooray!):

Unlike Bruce Springsteen, these ocas were not born in the USA, nor in any other part of the Americas. They're as Cornish as pasties, tin mines and summer holiday washouts. RX0917 resembles the "Amarillo/Khusioka" type, with pale yellow skin and pinkish eyes. I must confess myself pleased with the yield, bearing in mind that about half the tubers were lost to the effects of frost. I was intending to lift and photograph several more varieties, but my camera batteries began to fail at this point and I only managed to secure one more image before they finally gave up the ghost:

RX0919 looks a lot like the standard reddish oca. Still, it shows that there is diversity in the seedlings; others, not yet photographed were white; some resembled RX0917, except slightly flushed with pink. There were some impressively large tubers among them. When time and camera batteries allow, I will return and photograph them all. In any case, I have proved, to my own satisfaction at least, that oca breeding in the UK is perfectly feasible.

So whither Radix in 2010? Well, buoyed up by success on the oca front, I intend to carry on exploring the potential of this excellent plant. I'd also like to do a decent comparison of the three mauka varieties now in my possession and crack the mystery of flowering and seed production. I expect I'll grow yacon again and a few of the other Inca lost crops.

Futurology is a notoriously imprecise science; it seems likely, however, that oil prices and thus fertiliser costs will continue to rise. Come the hour, comes the crop: nitrogen fixing tubers would surely be beneficial in a biologically diverse and productive garden like yours. I'm talking about hopniss of course and maybe even talet, the hog peanut - two legume species I'd like to investigate further.

While my minders aren't looking, I'll continue to scour the planet for likely candidates for Radix to grow and study. I may even sneak some under the radar and onto the plot in secluded places. You'll be the first to know how I (and they) get on.

Oh - and here's said cake with single candle:


Mark said…
Have you thought about Rampion? Campanula rapunculus, its supposed to taste nice. This has a connection to the story of Rapunzel. Hopefully it might taste nicer than some you seem to have tried.
Congratulations on the survival of the ocas and maukas.
Rhizowen said…
Hi Mark

I've never had much success with rampion - mainly being unable to get it to germinate reliably. My guess is that the seeds available now are just wild rampion and not an improved selection as existed in the past; these may have given better germination and yields. It would be interesting to try and track down the improved varieties, if they still exist somewhere in Rapunzeland. Another plant with potential (perhaps) is evening primrose. The only roots I ever tried were unpleasantly bitter, yet it has been grown as a crop - in fact I knew someone who grew them claimed they were quite nice. Skirret is another I really ought to investigate - it has considerable potential for improvement and it definitely has a pleasant taste. I haven't grown it for years.....
Con gratualations for harvest and birthdayfrom me.

Sorry, my english is very bad.
I'm happy to see your harvest.
Do you save the Oca and mauka?
How much cold was it there.
In Germany all is frozen and snow.
I belive if I have some oca outside they are frozen.
Are the plants growing in a glacehouse?
I read already longer your blogs and am pleased, about the publicity for andean tubers. I hope you can inspire more people for growing this wonderful plants.

Greetings from CarpeDiem
Rhizowen said…
Hi CarpeDiem

Mein Deutsch ist viel schlechter als Ihr Englisch!

I harvested some oca today that seem OK, although many of the tubers were frozen. They were grown outside. Temperature probably went down to -8C, perhaps lower. We are getting frost at night, but the ground is no longer frozen solid. Unfortunately I have lost most of my ullucos.

Thanks very much for your comments about my blog. I'm sure you are doing a good job encouraging Germans to grow these fascinating crop plants too. If your tubers are below the level to which frost has penetrated they should survive.

Viel glueck
Sam_uk said…
Congratulations on your Birthday!

I don't suppose you have any small Maukas or Yacon spare that I could buy?
Rhizowen said…
Thanks for dropping by and following my blog Sam_uk. I don't have any spare maukas or yacons at the moment, but I might have later on in the season. It all depends on how ell the plants recover from the severe battering they've taken courtesy of the weather. Remind me in late April.
IAP said…
Hi Sam_uk. I am likely to have a spare Yacon or two if Rhizowen does not come up with the goods ;-) You can get my e-mail from my Blogger profile.