Sunday, 15 January 2012

Yacon 'Fiorella' Goes to Market

For the last couple of years I've been lucky enough to obtain pre-release samples of "Fiorella", a recently bred fast-maturing variety of yacon from Paul at
It's the variety that I've used in the 'All-tuber-mound', and 'Not the Three Sisters' planting schemes, and such is the superiority of Fiorella that I've now abandoned the white variety that I grew previously.

Here are a few of the edible tubers...
... and a shot of a typical root crown...
If your garden is prone to early frost, this variety could still work for you; it's said to be able to crop in 160 days. Certainly I've seen it tuberise by early September.

And it makes a very handsome border plant...
Anyway, the good news is that Paul has multiplied up his stock to the point that he can now make propagules available for sale. And if you just want the edible tubers, he sells those too.

This link will take you directly to the on-line ordering:
(not to be confused with which is a yacon syrup importer).

Oca on the Show-Bench

Plant breeding and crop research may have their place in developing more productive edibles, but if you want to see some really big vegetables, what you need is a vegetable show.
Now, it's well known that these peculiarly British events can sometimes lead to 'poisonous rivalries, paranoia and sabotage' amongst participants, but there's no denying that they get results, whether it's by skulduggery, good husbandry, or top-secret fertiliser recipes of superphosphate and goat urine.
The problem is that these events are always held in the Summer; no use to growers of alternative tuber crops.

Never mind, I'll just hold my own show.

Here's my entry for the blue riband class:  "Oca, (5 tubers of a single variety)"...
I'm the only entry in the class, so I should have a good chance of a 'First' on this one. Unless you can upstage me that is.

Feel free to invent another competition class. How about"Biggest Oca", or "Oca, artistic arrangement".
Send in your jpegs and I'll post them here. We don't need the RHS to have a good time!

Oh, and no paranoia, sabotage, Photoshopping, or image morphing please. That just wouldn't be British.

5/2/12. And here is another entry. Again grown in West London, this time from Michael Willcocks, who's entering the 'Oca, Medley' section. Very respectable.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Mashua 'Pilifera' has given me a very encouraging crop this year.

... unlike last year when I grew them 'properly' i.e. on their own. They struggled, probably because they were too exposed to strong sun, and weren't watered enough, but I did get some small tubers before the frost finished things.

This year I bi-cropped them with tall peas. 'Relay-cropping' is probably a more accurate term, as the crops overlapped rather than coincided in time.
My logic was to make shared use of the 7ft high pea supports, and for the Mashua to benefit from the shading and summer watering associated with the peas. After the pea crop was harvested, I just left the Mashua to climb through the dying stems for the remainder of the season, until killed by the frost.

This worked so well that I think I feel a few other Mashua-based polyculture schemes coming on...

Meanwhile here are some of the cleaned up tubers...

Notice that one tuber has resprouted — indicative of the recent mild weather, and demonstrating the plant's perennial intentions.
My single specimen of an unknown gold-coloured variety failed to survive the Summer, and has left no tubers. It's a pity, because I grew the two varieties through each other with the specific aim of facilitating cross-fertilisation.
That didn't work, but as at least the Pilifera has set some seed on its own.
Like Oca most Mashua clones are day-length sensitive, so growing from seed is potentially valuable in creating variation that may include earlier tuberisation.
What  I would like is to obtain the variety 'Ken Aslet' which flowers and crops earlier, and grow the two together with a view to crossing. Anyone got a couple of surplus KA tubers?

Well, if you don't ask, you don't get!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ulluco — It's How You Sell It

Managing people's expectations can make a big difference when they are introduced to a new crop. If you say to someone "Ulluco, a tuber a bit like a potato", then straight away you are setting up a mismatch between their mental image and the diminutive reality.
Here are the tubers I lifted last week...
... not exactly huge, but better than last year's lot which were hit by early frost.
On the other hand if you say it's a low-growing plant with really nice succulent edible leaves, which can be grown under taller crops (so don't take up space), and which give a bonus harvest of beautiful little brightly-coloured bean-like tubers, then no-one is going to be disappointed.
Well, not unless the plants are frosted before they can tuberise, that is.
So with my expectations well and truly managed, this year I grew them along with fellow 'minor' root crop Chinese artichokes along with garlic and climbing beans (have a look) and I think they benefited from all the extra watering that was lavished on the primary crop.  What they definitely did not benefit from was the smothering effect of various volunteer Oca plants that came up amongst them.

However, they survived, and they did it without any real care or attention during the whole growing season.

Something for nothing—the type of crop I have space for.