Ice Cold at Oca Acres

Oca Acres is well and truly frozen. Unlike Marvin Gaye, who famously heard it through the grapevine, I wasn't really as aware of the seriousness of the impending plunge in temperatures as I should have been.

Forwarned is forearmed; complacent gets a kicking. So, like last year, I have been caught out with my ocas unharvested. Whether this surprisingly precipitous start to winter is connected with climate change, I have no idea, although the loss of Arctic sea ice has been implicated in last year's cold snap. Then there's the not inconsequential matter of the North Atlantic Oscillation.  Rather than spend the rest of my days struggling to interpret climate science, let's just say that my plans to plant an avocado orchard may be on hold for a while.  Shame, as I like avocados.

Me and Marvin share this much in common: I'm concerned that I'm bout to lose my mind over the whole business. I wonder how deep the frost has penetrated. I wonder how much longer the cold weather will continue. I wonder how many tubers will survive and how many will be lost.  I've built up a collection of over 140 genetically unique oca varieties; to part with it through what might be characterised by the less-than-charitable as negligence - now that would be truly shameful.  And this year I can't plead extenuating circumstances, other than my innate indolence.  The secret of good comedy, is, so they say, timing.  This must be even more true in the case of gardening.  Due to other commitments, I let things slide and may now be paying the price.

Rather than an exercise in grovelling self-abasement and an attempt to elicit sympathetic comments on my blog, I see this as strong reinforcement of my gut instincts.   It is clear that I need to decide a cut off date for the oca harvest, as I've previously considered and then stick to it. The beginning of November seems appropriate in this area. This would also allow me to sort the good-doers from the no-hopers in a systematic fashion: I could weigh them in the balance and those found wanting could easily be eliminated through our digestive systems. But if you feel like sending me your comiserations and condolences, don't let me stop you. Love me, pity me, but don't ignore me.

As I won't be able to harvest the tubers for a while yet, I draw some comfort from this little packet of oca seeds, the product of pods picked in haste before the first frosts.  Lacking the necessary slaves to record their parentage in painstaking detail, I opted for the happy, mixed blend approach.  I like to think that there is strength in diversity and that the alleles for the very necessary day-neutral tuberisation response are lurking in there somewhere.


Emma said…
OOh, seeds :) Lots of promise there!
IAP said…
I think it was Bob Flowerdew that said 'In gardening there is a right time for everything, and it was two weeks ago'. Needless to say, my crop is also still under the frozen ground, but I'm hoping they will be fine.
A very nice haul of seed, and I like your simplified labeling system :-)
I'm afraid I failed to collect any seed; I just did not get coincidental flowering of compatible varieties before the first frost. My action point for next year is to grow more of the floriferous varieties - at least I now know which these are, and their stylar types.
Anonymous said…
Those seeds will love to get all the room you have for oca!

Here we got so much snow when weather changed, that I believe my oca is undamaged in the earth below the deep snow. But have to be timely as the snow melts.
orrflo said…
Having a population of hungry mice isn't always a disadvantage, I have to harvest early, and I did get most of them out of the ground before the winter arrived. Some varieties were eaten completely, but I managed to save about 15, and I placed the pots with seed-grown ocas inside, so I still have to harvest these. A wonderful bag of seeds there, I did get some seeds, maybe twenty at the most, but I doubt if the will be viable, they could have used some more time outside. I did cut the seed stalks and placed them inside, but they didn't really do well . My experience with frost is that big ocas seem to disappear and small ones do stay alive, it probably also depends on the moisture contained in the tubers.
This fall seems to be a bad time for hard frosts this year, throughout the N. hemisphere. Here in Washington, we were hit with a week long arctic blast from Canada in late November and it hit 6ºF (-14ºC) here at the lowest - very unusual for our area. Luckily, I dug up my oca and mashua out a couple days beforehand, but the few stray tubers I forgot in the ground turned to mush.

How cold did it get in Cornwall? From what I've heard, it's one of the warmer spots in England. I have my fingers crossed for your oca. I had no idea you had so many oca varieties. How many of those are crosses that you've made?

Also, that's a lot of oca seed! You've certainly have skill for getting your plants to produce seed.
I feel it with you and hope, go to you better than me.
It seems not all is use, because many seeds.
Greetings from cold germany Cordula
Ben Gabel said…
Hi Owen, we could have written the start of your post almost exactly. If it helps, you've cheered me up a bit - I've been lamenting my stupidity in not digging the oca / not realising it was going to get so cold / thinking it was only going to be a sprinkling of snow . . .

I'm trying to sort out all my orders today because - maybe - the weather might be a bit warmer tomorrow and I'm hoping to go up on the field & see what has survived.

One cheerful thought, we have in the past dug oca that has been completely frozen, and at least some has been fine. So hopefully you'll get something from each of your varieties. I don't think we'll have much to sell at Real Seeds, though! Thank goodness we had dug most of the yacon, at least . . .

Congratulations on your very good collection of seeds!

cheers, Kate
Call it selection for winter hardy oca, and give lots of love and attention to the seedlings next year. One of them could be the ONE.
Kate (Real Seeds) said…
Hello again Owen, not sure if you've had any chance to get out there and look at your oca. We've had a thaw here, and been digging ours the last two days, and so far it is looking absolutely fine.

So unless it is damaged and goes off in the next few days, fingers crossed we are all ok. In fact, its a really good harvest, best for a long time, reinforces my belief that you really do need to wait for the foliage to be entirely killed back to get the best yield.

Hope that yours is all ok too once the ground unfreezes.
Mark said…
The thaw has hit Glasgow, it almost time for G & Ts under the palm trees of the tropical north. Hope you ground thaws soon, if not there is more cold predicted, then it is back into the fridge.
Ben Gabel (RealSeeds) said…
Oca harvest in, all seems ok! No obvious frost damage. Hooray!

I have a few Oca observations.

We have grown out now 4 or 5 new strains from seed. In every case, yield has been pretty rubbish, noticeably poorer than the parents. Smaller tubers, later tuberisation.

I know, I know - 4 is not a significant sample. But looking at these (and having grown a LOT of oca over the last 10 yrs or so); my gut feeling is as follows:

1) There is a lot of genetic variability there in the oca genepool

2) It has already been HEAVILY selected for the good ones.

3) the landraces are heterozygous . Much like if you plant pips from a good apple you get something horrible in most instances.

Oca self-mutates a lot. You'll all have seen the odd tuber with a different coloured stripe where I suspect a transposable element or some such thing has jumped around and knocked out a pigment-expression control gene.

If the genome as a whole mutates at the same rate (about 6 tubers per 20kg for colour changes) then I would expect a lot of diversity to arise just as people repeatedly plant their tubers in their fields.

so . . . we are now keeping tubers from bigger / better plants aside and replanting on suspicion of genetic advantage rather than environemntal differences . No hard data but it feels right. We do seem to be able to get bigger tubers over time.

Other musings - am guessing that most seedlings will be rubbish compared to parents. Your enormous bag of seed is indeed the obvious answer; plant the whole lot!

Ben (with his entire garage floor now covered in heaps of oca)
razvan said…
You have a very interesting blog.
I am a gardener from Romania and I am very interested in oca and other South-American crops.
Can you tell me of sources of seeds/tubers as swaps/exchanges or to buy.
Thanks a lot.