Saturday, 16 March 2013

Yacon — Storing and Dividing Propagation Caudices

Yacon propagules (or caudices) are easily bought these days, and most new yacon growers will quite rightly be expecting to save their own replanting material for future years. Certainly, that's what I confidently planned when I first grew the crop, but in fact I found out that it's quite easy to lose yacon caudices during winter if they are poorly stored.
The two killers are frost, and rot caused by cold wet conditions. Err, then there's desiccation if they dry out. Oh, and not forgetting mice.
So, simple enough you'd think, but finding a successful storage method has taken me a few years, and resulted in a few failures along the way.
I've tried storing them in plastic crates of damp compost in a greenhouse (one time frost got in, another year 'sweating' caused rotting).
I've tried storing them in cardboard boxes in an unheated room in the house (some dried out, while some sprouted far too early, and were then difficult to keep alive until planting out time)
Some growers claim success leaving them in the ground, but this can't be totally reliable, and would only work in favourable climates. The climate here is decidedly unfavourable.
In practice, the temperature criterium is fairly simple to control; I've settled on storing in an unheated brick-built shed (with the proviso that I may need to temporarily rescue them during times of penetrating frost).
Maintaining ideal moisture levels is not so easy, but my experiences have led to this method:-

When lifting crowns in autumn, I remove most of the spindle tubers for eating, but leave a few of the small ones attached. These (I assume) provide the crown with a reserve of moisture. Do not separate the caudices for storage — leave them attached to the crown, where they will be able to draw on moisture from the spindle tubers.
I brush off as much of the attached soil as is practical (if it is wet), and cut off the stumps of the stems as these often seem to be the starting point for rot during storage.
If the crowns have been lifted in wet conditions, I would leave them under cover for a day or two to dry off.
I then place the crowns in lidded buckets (the lids are perforated to avoid condensation) surrounded by a mixture of almost dry spent compost and very coarse sawdust. Any open and slightly damp medium will do, the important point is that it should not be too moist.
I then hang the buckets from rafters to exclude mice.

In March, I start checking the crowns every week, until I notice signs of growth...
This is a good time to divide the caudices and pot them up; small live buds confirm which caudices as viable. Any larger, and they will almost certainly be damaged during the violent dividing process.

I prepare by gently brushing away the storage medium to reveal the caudices, being careful not to harm any shoots ...
Then I start by trying to break the crown in half on any obvious line of weakness, though often a knife is needed for this first division. Thereafter it is usually possible to forcibly snap the caudices apart along their natural divisions. Be warned; this is not a job for a little old lady with arthritic fingers, or at least not unless she trains regularly by tearing telephone directories in half.

Each crown should provide between 5 and 15 propagules. Larger caudices can be further divided as long as each piece has at least one viable bud, but I prefer to leave them whole to make really strong plants.
Check each propagule for local rotting. Either discard, or trim back to healthy material for a fair chance of survival.
Pot immediately, and keep in a greenhouse, perhaps potting on again, before planting outside in May.

I've noticed that poorer, smaller plants, often provide more propagation material than larger ones. Based on that, and the fact that I got about 15 propagules from each of my plants, you should be able to work out how bad my crop was last year!


  1. Thank you for this tip. Since 3 years I try to get Yacon during the winter.....

  2. hey are you selling seed tubers?
    if so add me

    1. Hi takacs05. This variety is protected by plant breeders rights, so I can't sell it. However, you can get it directly from the UK supplier,

    2. Unrelated: where did you buy arracacha propagulum from? Thanks for any help! Sergio

    3. Hi Oishinbo. I was lucky enough to be given them by someone visiting Brazil. They are commonly available there in markets.

    4. Hello Ian,
      Thanks for your prompt reply. I am Brazilian (living in the USA) and really miss "batata baroa" (arracacha). I guess my best bet is then to try to see how to obtain a phytosanitary certificate so I can import it.

  3. I had good luck growing Yacon in Los Angeles- I thought the tubers were delicious too.

  4. Ian,
    you know what I think of these plant breeders rights (you can't help it of course), this is an old Peruvian variety which I obtained from Eilif Aas, morado, that was taken to the Czech Republic given an other name, and went to the UK...And now there are plant breeders rights on it..Plants should be free,for everybody! In this case it's very obvious what happened, sad world...
    I never had a problem surviving yacon, just dig the whole thing in one piece, store it in a cool room, moderate air humidity, and try to cover them with some potting soil, compost, shavings or other stuff, don't water them, but cut some tubers that start rotting if you see that happens. I can save them until June like that,

    1. Hi Frank.
      Well, I don't know the full history of the plants, but I did give my word that I would not sell propagation material from them, and I will stick to my word.
      Interesting that you store them indoors and, do I understand correctly, uncovered? It seems to be down to controlling moisture/humidity. Keeping them on the dry side, but with some spindle tubers as a water reserve, is my current thinking.

  5. Hello Ian , I don't mind buying them from yak but Paul has not been responding to email on the site . I'm going to be in London for 2 weeks in January I'd like to arrange an early shipment to my hotel .. Can you help me get in contact with him?


    1. Hi Mike, I'd guess it's just the festive season. In any case, I'd wait till early Spring before buying; once separated, the propagules need careful treatment to survive over the winter.

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  7. A little late in the year but dug yacons up first time growing very happy with the amount harvested