Monday, 27 June 2011

Main Oca Bed 2011 — If It Ain't Broke...

Last year's growing arrangement of Oca with cordon tomatoes was hard to fault, so I've just tweaked it slightly to optimise spacing and make it easier to manage this time round. Oh, and it's beetroot instead of lettuce for the quick-growing edge crop.

Here is Oca 'Dark pink', not yet at the sprawling stage, growing strongly between tomato 'OSU Blue', despite being subject to a medley of drought, high wind, downpours and hailstorms since planting out.
Observant readers might notice that there is incomplete fruit set on the tomato. I'm pretty sure this is due to the very dry conditions earlier in the season rather than any affect from the oca foliage covering the lower trusses.

The bed's timetable in detail:-

13th April. Cleared the preceding green manure crop (grazing rye). Tops hoed off with an azada, and removed, roots left in situ. Not dug.

14th April. Beetroot (plugs, sown 15th March) were planted out.
The tiny plants are just visible in rows 9" from the bed edge (centre foreground bed)...
I could have planted out the Oca at the same time, but last year they got a bit of frost damage around now, so no need to rush things as they are happily growing away in Root trainers at this point.

9th May. Oca and tomatoes finally get planted out. The Root trainer method seems like a success, and I'm sure this will give them a better start than using pots.
Tomatoes planted, Oca laid ready to plant, beetroot doing well...
That's Cheltenham Greentop on the left, and 'White' on the right.

The tomato supports are on 16" spacing, with 24" between the staggered rows. Incidentally this assumes using the UK conventional cordon growing method (side-shooting, and deleafing lower part of stem). If you use the American cage method I'd go for much wider spacing.

5th June. Full ground cover from the  Oca between the tomatoes, and beet down the edges (beetroot now being harvested).
10th June. Tomatoes are starting to crop. (Below) This is Katja, a Siberian variety, surprisingly the first to ripen. Thanks to Søren of Toad's Garden for the seed.
31st June. Oca stems over-reach themselves and collapse down at this time of year. This, along with deleafing the lower part of the tomato cordons improves ventilation and light access. The dappled shade from the tomatoes is enjoyed by the Oca, reducing stress in hot weather.
8th August. Tomatoes in full production.

1st October. Tomatoes on the wane, Oca ascendance.

4th December, tomatoes removed after the first light frost.
Tubers are swelling!

Harvest still to come!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Not the Three Sisters...

... not the traditional corn/climbing beans/squash polyculture, but a wilder and woolier version with slightly more obstreperous contenders. The Three Hooligans might be a more accurate name for what I have in mind.
Infant hooligans on planting out day (25th May)
'Hooligan 1' is Yacon,  Fiorella,  a Czech-bred quick maturing variety which I grew last year. I can confirm that it does indeed get a move on, and makes tubers long before standard Yacon. Each plant is liable to reach 8ft high by 9ft wide by the end of the season, and produce 10 to 15 pounds of edible tubers.

'Hooligan 2' is the Hog Peanut or Talet (Amphicarpaea bracteata). I don't have any previous experience of growing this, but it's reputation as a rampant reprobate proceeds it. I'm looking forward to trying the beans which form below ground. Thanks to Rhizowen for the seed, who was also thoughtful enough to provide the required specific inoculant to permit nitrogen fixing on the plant's roots.

'Hooligan 3' is admittedly a corn, as in The Three Sisters system, but this is Hopi Blue — a robust and highly variable variety, displaying diverse foliage colour, number of tillers, and ultimate height. It's usually described as growing to about 2 m but I think that must be in its arid homeland, as I have experience of it growing to more like 3m. Almost certainly there are different strains, which also might explain this difference.

But for a successful polyculture, it's as much about how you plant as what you plant. Here's a view showing the planting layout...

That's a 5 ft wide bed. Hopi Blue are more widely spaced than usual to admit light to the Yacon which are planted on the centre of the bed at 4 ft spacing. Hog peanuts are between the Yacon, and should climb to the light. You'll also notice a couple of rows of onions in there. They were planted back in March and could be a mistake, but they were a bargain and you never know, if they get a move on they could form an extra output.

A couple of weeks later the plants have settled in...
... and are still well-behaved, but for how long?


27/9/11 Corn ripening. Flowers on the yacon are a sure sign that tubers are forming below ground. And...
... the hog peanuts are producing their tiny delicate flowers.

16/10/11. The corn is harvested...
...and the corn plants removed. The yacon are about 8ft high and steadily flowering.
More updates later.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The All-Tuber Polyculture Mound, Part 2 ... Room for One More

A previous post showed how last year I used mound culture to grow a mixed tuber crop (Yacon, Oca, and Chinese artichokes) with the minimum of labour input.

Here's what's left of the mound... 
...untouched since last December when it was torn open to yield over 20 lb of harvest.  As I anticipated, there are plenty of volunteer Oca and Chinese artichokes appearing amongst the annual weeds this year, so I only need to add a Yacon to restore last year's successful system.
Less than five minutes after the previous photo...
... and the weeds are blotted out by a heavy covering of garden compost, and a pot-started Yacon is added to the top of the heap.
This much compost might seem like an extravagance, until one thinks back to the amount of biomass which was removed at harvest; here's the near hernia-inducing Yacon root as a reminder...

I'm also adding a fourth member to the polyculture. The Hog Peanut, or Talet (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is not a true tuber-crop, so stretches the concept slightly,  but will clamber and twine amongst the Yacon, potentially fix nitrogen, and hopefully add to the overall interest and subterranean yield of the mound with its wacky underground beans.
It's another self-propagator by all reports, so like the Oca and Chinese artichokes, it should be back every year...

...whether I like it or not.

Update photo, 1st August...  ...five foot high an' risin'.