Saturday, 15 December 2012

More Mashua

Last winter I wrote (here) about the Mashua variety pilifera, and mentioned collecting its true seed. For whatever reason, that seed didn't germinated, but my post did result in a generous offer from Mybighair; wildling tubers seeded from his Ken Aslet, a day-length neutral form, arrived in the mail. Back in April I got tired of waiting for Spring, so between downpours, I planted the tubers in the cold, nutrient depleted mud, then retired indoors for the rest of the year, leaving the mashua to sink or swim. Literally.

Here is the resulting crop from "Son of Ken 1" lifted yesterday:
The four plants have all demonstrated fairly early tuberisation, acceptable flavour (to me), and exhibit varying degrees of the characteristic stripes of the parent. Diversity is good.
The fact they survived this year's hellish weather and waterlogged soil is not just good, it's amazing.

Some tubers are faciated, a condition which can result in larger, albeit strangely shaped tubers, and the genetic disturbance may sometimes be passed to the next generation, so I will replant next year. I don't pretend to understand what's going on with the genetics - I simply plant, observe, and select.

I grew "Son of Ken 1, 2, 3, & 4" right next to the Pilfera, hoping to collect seed from crossing, and I did see some flowers forming in early autumn, but if they survived long enough to be pollinated before being battered to the ground by rain or hail, they were probably ripped away by the regular gales we've suffered this year. So no seed.

Anyway, Pilifera cropped well again, though several young plants vanished during the so called spring, probably raided by desperate rabbits. Here are some of the best tubers from the surviving plants:

Mashua is said to be pest-free, but there is one significant exception; the plants suffered a massive attack from cabbage white caterpillars in August.
I picked about half a bucketful by hand, but the foliage was already badly stripped. Notwithstanding this, the plants made a good recovery. Perhaps Mashua would be a useful decoy crop alongside (or amongst) brassicas.

I've also noticed that many of the harvested tubers are spoiled by these strange brown fringed splits forming round the eyes. I'm guessing this could be caused by over-rapid swelling from high soil moisture levels i.e. growing in mud.
Possibly the staining is the concentration of chemical defences migrating to the vulnerable exposed surfaces.

Another observation is that the underground tubers are ignored, or perhaps more accurately avoided, by voles. There are voles aplenty here, and the oca are taking a bashing, but not a nibble on the Mashua. Maybe the voles are spoiled for choice with all the oca about, or perhaps they agree with a proportion folk who find the taste of mashua to be repulsive. I am not one of them, and when other crops fail, it seems there is mashua to eat.

Love it or loathe it, if you have tasted mashua, you can contribute to an edibility survey over at Radix.

Damn climate change! Next year: build windbreaks, dig drains, collect mashua seed. Wish I hadn't burnt those hydrocarbons now!