Another Oca Shocker

"Lucky" is not alone. I was weeding by the edge of a bed yesterday, when I noticed some more oca seedlings. Several more. So it seems that oca seeds can overwinter, then germinate and develop quite well here. I find this revelation rather comforting, as it suggests that it might be possible to sow seeds directly outside (I'm thinking by the thousand) and select for early germination and tough, fast growth.

I have to admit that all these seedlings look healthier than my own ones did at a similar age. I'm guessing that they won't make anywhere near as much growth as their cosseted counterparts before winter, however. Maybe that doesn't matter. It may still be possible to select outstanding individuals from the mob. Alternatively, it might be possible to use some sort of cloche system to warm the soil and get them started earlier, then remove it before they get spindly (as all my indoor seedlings did). I could try it next year.

These country cousins seem to have cobby conformation and a sanguine outlook on life. I kind of like the idea of a self-sowing Inca root crop that inveigles its way into your existing crops. Presumably new oca varieties appear this way in their Andean highland home. You've heard of TPS (True Potato Seed - if not - look here). May I introduce the latest in oca acclimatization technology - TOS - True Oca Seed. Once I've figured out how to get large crops of seeds on a regular basis, I'll be looking for a bunch of fellow TOSsers to help grow and select them. RSVP.


Hmmm - the same seems to happen with tomatoes. I find volunteers that have obviously survived composting and pop up outdoors in my East Yorkshire garden while I'm cossetting the mardy beggars in the greenhouse!

Good luck with your hardy babies.
IAP said…
It would have been so easy to have run them through with a hoe thinking they were volunteers from missed tubers.
You can count on me to be a TOSser.
Mark said…
Sounds good. Count me in to grow them, although it looks like I will be marooned in the USA for sometime.
I wonder how oca would cope with high intensity insolation, probably ok, but the heat might be a problem.
Rebsie Fairholm said…
I've never grown oca in any form, and I'm rapidly running out of garden space (the front lawn is gonna have to go if I can't get my obsession under control) but if you want to TOS a few seeds in my direction I'll do my best with them.
Rhizowen said…
Vegetable heaven - Thanks. My avowed aim in life is to minimise the number of mardy beggars I encounter, both in the garden and elsewhere. Thus far, I cannot honestly say I've made much progress.

IAP - I'm a bit concerned that I might have eliminated loads more before I got my eye in. Welcome aboard the Good Ship TOS.

Mark - I would have thought NM insolation would be OK, although I'm guessing temperatures above 30C wouldn't do the poor ocas any good.

Rebise- oca is a lot easier to grow than ulluco. I forbid you to try and control your magnificent obsession - surprise, delight and educate your neighbours instead, with the ultimate agrobiodiverse antidote to front lawn ryegrass hegemony.
redtitan23 said…
So this is kind of unrelated to the post, but couldn't find an e-mail address for you and thought you'd be interested in this. Apparently, the International Potato Center has a germplasm library through an organization called SINGER: The IPC has around 500 varieties of oca on there, many with nothing but intriguing Spanish names and latitude and longitude coordinates. Eventually, I came across a variety from ChiloƩ Island in Southern Chile. It's 42 degrees south latitude ( That's about the same latitude as Oregon or France, which means there's a good chance it might be day-light length independent and that it'd be great material to work on breeding with. I just put in a request for it and some other oca and ulluco varieties (apparently, it seems individuals can request germplasm - have yet to hear back from my request, but from what I've read, you don't have to be part of an organization). Sadly, no southernly ulluco varieties. The best they have is from extreme northern Argentina, which is only 22 degrees south.
Anyway, as a fellow oca nut (and mashua, ulluco, and groundnut nut), I thought this was really cool and thought you'd be interested.

-Adam Peterson
SW Washington State, US
lion14484 said…
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Rhizowen said…
Hi redtitan23

Thanks for the information - I've looked at CIP site many times in the past and that's where I got my CIP208001 mauka seeds from originally. It's usually a slow and protracted process, taking months or years - getting hold of the germplasm, I mean. I also noticed the oca from Chiloe. It's possible that this is the same or similar to the most common New Zealand variety, but if you do manage to get hold of it, I'll be very interested in hearing how it grows for you. It may come as micro-propagated plants in a vial - they'll need careful nurturing. If you're in western Washington, then our climate is probably quite similar. I love the Olympic Mtns, the Hoh rainforest and all those big trees. There are a few interesting native tuberous plants from your region I'm interested in too. Tell me more about your mashua, ulluco and groundnuts....

Hi lion14484 - where are you?
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trixtrax said…
@Rhizowen you've obviously counted your lucky stars as well as being a successful courier of future oca generations... I enjoyed the interesting science article you posted from "Our Lady of the Oca's". I will have to try and check out some of her other publications soon.

I have multiple plots going at five different gardens this year. Different conditions the whole way around from garden to garden. I'm also trying different methods of shoring up soil and burying stems, etc. This year on a friend's farm, in one of the shady plots, a pink and white type are flowering together. Maybe the flowers have taken and I'll get some seeds? Oh, lucky lucky stars...

For reference, I am growing a pink type (from Washington), white (NL), armarillo (NL), rebo (NL), a rose type (CA), and a very deep rose type with a slight translucence, that I was told overwintered in Oregon. I have also confirmed the pink type does overwinter in the open under mulch and in an unheated tunnel - if planted deep enough. This plant really does have an amazing ability to shoot up from a deeply planted tuber. I have found them developing shoots and roots, in the ground, by April. Hard clay does foil them from emerging if too lacking in tilth.

Which interesting native tubers from our area are you interested in? Do tell.

Long live the oca!

Also, please jot me down as interested in evaluating some TOS, too.

@IAP Good work on your successes so far as well. I enjoy reading your blog about oca also. Thank you!

@redtitan23 I am also from Washington. We should talk sometime soon and maybe trade some plants/seeds. What do you say?
redtitan23 said…
@ Rhizowen Sorry for taking so long to reply. I'll let you know if the oca I requested gets through - I haven't heard back, apart from getting an e-mail, so my guess is it'll be quite a while. Were there any steps that you had to go through to get your mauka, or did you just put in the original request and then they sent it to you after a while? If that oca variety gets here, I'll definitely let you know how it grows and give you some tubers if I can grow it out and get some more. The mashua varieties I have are mostly from Frank Kiersbilck, but I have a variety that I obtained from the Occidental Arts and Ecology center in Northern California on a college field trip. I'm thinking it might be the Ken Aslet variety that's day neutral, but I'm not sure. The guy I got it from said the variety was there when they bought the center, so not much info on the variety's background. The oca varieties I have are also from Frank Kiersbilck, though I have one variety that is from Nichols Garden nursery in Oregon (it's the pinkish standard variety I've seen a lot of place - I'm guessing that's the variety grown in New Zealand?) and another dark rose variety from the same place in N. California. Unfortunately, I have no ulluco, though I requested some with my germplasm request to the IPC, so with luck, I'll have some soon. I have two groundnut varieties, which I just planted this year. One was a domesticated LSU variety I got through Seed Savers Exchange from a guy named Paul Simon in Kansas, and the other was from Frank Kiersbilck. So far, the one from Frank is doing a lot better (I think its better adapted climactically).

What kind of tuberous plants are you interested in from Washington? Though it's more of a bulb plant, I'm in the middle of prime camas habitat here and every spring, there's blue flowers everywhere in the fields (there's also some white flowers mixed in, which makes me worried that we're prime death camas habitat also . . .). Unfortunately, I'm not near the native habitat of Leichtlin's camas, the species that's three times as large. No groundnut here either, since I'm west of the Rockies - wish there was though, as it'd be really great to breed a northern adapted variety to an LSU variety.

@ trixtrax Hi! I'd definitely be interested in trading some plants or seeds. I should have some oca and mashua tubers this fall and maybe a couple groundnut tubers that I could dig up this fall. Most of what I have is listed above. I'm from south of Olympia, by the way, a little north of Centralia.
Rhizowen said…
Hi trixtrax
Good to hear from you again. Sounds like you've got the right set-up for oca breeding success - good luck. If and when they flower, check out which stylar morphs you have and try cross pollinating them. We have some of the same varieties, so I expect it will work out. Once the seedlings get going, they're really quite vigorous. You might want to email Eve and tell her what you're doing - I've found her to be very helpful.

I hope you manage to get some seeds from your plants. A concerted international effort should soon get us some better varieties. Then there's ulluco to work on.

Rooty delights from your neck of the woods? yampah, wapato, sand verbena, Pacific silverweed - that'll do for starters. Your name is on the list of TOSsers.

Hi redtitan2
I just put my request for mauka seeds in and waited. And waited. Maybe the new system works better. What you probably don't want is tiny micro propagated oca plants turning up in December - it might be tricky to keep them alive. As I said to trixtrax, I'm interested in yampah, wapato, sand verbena and silverweed. Melica subulata - Alsaka oniongrass is another. I can get hold of camas bulbs over here. If you ever get anything from the LSU groundnut, I'd be interested in trying to cross it with more northern varieties. The best ones I've found so far are the triploids from New England/ Canada - breeding from those is going to be tricky. A nitrogen fixing root crop is something I dream about.