Monday, 22 November 2010

Mauka: Mission Accomplished

Determination, vision and a piece of black plastic have shown that mauka anthocarps-a-plenty can be produced right here, right now.  These are the ones that I've collected from the white flowered variety "Blanca" which Frank van Keirsbilck sent me last year as a cutting.  If they turn out to be viable, which is my fervent hope, breeding better adapted maukas should be within my grasp. Or I should at least be able to breed ones which are equally as good as the existing ones.  In the light of the successes Radix has also experienced with oca seed production, I am now envisaging a two-pronged attack on Britain's vegetable gardens in an attempt to overthrow the centuries-old hegemony of Solanum tuberosum, followed by a pincer like movement across mainland Europe.  The revolution begins here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

OK at the Oca Corral?

I think I may have given the impression that all my ocas were killed back in October. Actually, that's not strictly true.  By happenstance, I had covered up some late-maturing chillies with horticultural fleece.  This billowing gossamer drapery offered them sufficient protection throughout the cold period in October, when several hard frosts coincidentally destroyed the flower (literally) of my oca crop.  Then, the other night,  it did what fleece so often does - it blew away in the gales, exposing the chillies to the frost which followed.  I hate those fleeces to pieces!

Still, this gave me an opportunity to take a look at some of the self-sown oca seedlings which had appeared, if not in profusion, then with a surprising frequency amongst the official crop.  Conditions were not ideal, what with shade and competition from the chillies.  Nevertheless, some of these intrepid interlopers had made a reasonable amount of growth.  The frost had put a stop to that, so I decided to take a look at what the situation was on the ground, or rather, below the ground.  

It quickly became obvious that the diaphanous polypropylene sheet had done more than offer a refuge to the plants.  The friendly neighbourhood voles had been enjoying the warmth and protection provided; with typical microtine gratitude they had launched a preemptive strike on the swelling stolons, severing them before they had a chance to metamorphose into tubers.  In some cases they had bitten through the stems of the plants as well.  Little piles of julienned tubers were scattered around.

Ah, the perils of stochastic events, the term by which these sorts of randomly fatal happenings are apparently known in population ecology.  I notice that Bob Dylan opted to substitute 'stochasticity' with  'a simple twist of fate' in the song of the same title,  presumably due to the enhanced lyrical flexibility gained by so doing.  Or maybe he don't know much about history, don't know much biology.  If you're out there Bob, tell me whether you can throw any light on the four year cyclical variation in vole populations and its effects on my horticultural operations. Might make a good song.


But not even the voles had quite managed to eliminate the brave ocas and their plump, perennating propagules.  So, to all the naysayers and doom mongers out there:  this plucky Andean underdog - oca - has shown that it has the smarts to scatter its own seeds, survive rodents, slugs, incompetent gardeners and then produce a crop of tubers in one season. OK at the Oca Corral?  Yes, I think so, definitely.


As proof, I offer these pictures of some of my very first self-sown oca plants.  Had the frosts held off until this time, as is usual hereabouts, I'm sure they would have done perfectly well without protection.







Thursday, 4 November 2010

Mauka - Pregnant With Possibility

Is that an anthocarp on your inflorescence or are you just pleased to see me?  Mae West's opinion of obscure root crops is, as far as I know, unrecorded, but I like to think she would have taken full advantage of the innuendos that lurk in the seedy, fecund alleyways of horticulture. Pricking out, for example, could hardly have escaped her attention.  That, in conjunction with hardening off, would surely have led to the genesis of some memorable one-liners, all delivered in Mae's signature drawl.   

In any case, it seems as though my patented mauka floral induction protocol has yielded the desired results, or soon will, all being well.  There are several significant swellings appearing on both Blanca and Roja plants where the flowers used to be.  I don't know whether my casual floral fiddling has anything to do with it, but they seem to have been pollinated somehow, by something. Yes, Mae, those really are anthocarps on their inflorescences and I'm certainly pleased to see them.

I decided to break with tradition and follow my own advice for once - I brought the burgeoning blossom bearers indoors as temperatures dropped. They have been sitting on a windowsill for several weeks now and have thus avoided the cold snap that hammered their outdoor compatriots.   

Image courtesy of Frank van Keirsbilck
Coincidentally, Frank van Keirsbilck recently sent me news of his own mauka crop.  An image will spare you the necessity of extraneous descriptive prolixity on my part, so I'll say no more than this: 3 kilos.
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