Friday, 1 November 2013

Oca/Corn/Huauzontle Polyculture — Still Seeking Low-Work Resilient Growing Systems.

In 2010 I posted here on interplanting Oca and sweetcorn. This year, I'm going a stage further by adding Huauzontle (or 'Aztec Broccoli') to that system. Huauzontle is a Chenopod crop producing greens and edible flower-shoots, historically an encouraged weed or tolerated volunteer in Central American maize fields.
Here are the three constituent crops ready to plant out on the 16th of June, Huauzontle on the left...
The Huauzontle seed came from Real Seeds, and was ridiculously fast to germinate; the seedlings were up in 48 hrs, so in future, I would direct sow with confidence. But this time they were multi-sown in cells a week or so after the corn.
The maize is Painted Mountain obtained in a seed swap parcel a few years back, (thank you Jayb). It gave 100% germination despite its age, in sowing conditions that were not really warm enough by normal standards. It's a many-coloured genetically diverse, heat and cold-resilient variety, bred to thrive in the Rocky Mountains. After last year's weather, I'm seeking resilient varieties! Two trays of commercial sweetcorn sown on the same day all rotted, thanks probably to chilly nights in the greenhouse. Not chilly by Rocky Mountain standards evidently.

The oca are a motly collection of leftovers stunted from being left in small cells too long.

Here's the scheme on planting day. That's a four foot wide bed...
 ...which has just been newly created by double digging, incorporating all available organic matter to full depth. Carrying through the resilience theme to the soil, there are even logs buried under there; anything to build up this silt soil, and give some water holding capacity.
Just four weeks after planting, quite remarkably the huauzontle was already providing greens and seed shoots for steaming, but proving too vigorous for this scheme, or at least is too thickly planted, and is shown here just before receiving a serious cutting back...
A few spare lettuce were squeezed along the edge too, and the paths mulched to limit water loss during the ensuing heatwave.

By the beginning of September the corn is ready to pick...
...and, despite occasional chopping back, the Huauzontle continued to be a bit too resilient. The Oca are definitely suffering from lack of light and water at this stage.

Here is the view of the bed on 31st October...

...The oca are expanding fast, fighting back, and flowering, with every indication of a decent harvest to be had by mid winter. The Huauzontle, disheveled by recent gale-force winds, has turned spectacularly red and carries a massive seed crop, so it seems likely that I, just like Central American peasants, will have it as a tolerated volunteer in seasons to come.
With wider spacing of the Huauzontle, this scheme would approach my ideal; no weeds had a chance, and the bed yielded well, but required almost no work input once created. And like the Forth railway bridge, it has redundancy — bits can fall off it, but it still works.


  1. Huauzontle has seed crop varieties commonly called red chia, but there's no chance to get any seeds anywhere. The species grows wild north to Alaska, so I think it would adapt easily anywhere in Europe and could even become invasive as goosefoot ( Chenopodium album ) did when introduced in America. It spontaneously crossed with quinoa when the andean species was introduced in Colorado as a new crop. Black quinoa came out of that cross. It also crosses with goosefoot, but I never noticed any goosefoot-quinoa cross in my garden yet.

    1. Thanks for the info Julien. I will keep an eye open for any strange cross chenopods next year. I read that the chia seed when soaked, forms a gel which can be used as an egg substitute. I will experiment using my seed heads.

  2. The information is really useful and informative. :)

  3. super job dude. The oca is really expanding fast and flowering as well. congrats on your effort. i hope you will get some good reward soon:) god bless you!