Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Description of my disappointing oca disaster*

I was excited to try the andean tuber oca . Known to grow well in areas with long frost free seasons because they don't start to tuberize until nights lengthen, I figured I'd grow them here in the land of hard freezes in October. Makes sense right? But heck, I'm a gardener and if there's one thing almost all of us share, it's optimism. I mean I didn't think I could grow sweet potatoes when I first started gardening here either.

Well, turns out that daylight sensitivity was not going to be my problem. My precious oca plant material was knocked off first by an unrelenting drought followed potentially by some sort of marauding bug - slugs? From the orchard batch, I collected exactly two mini tubers:

These mini tubers are drying out sides up. One is yellow with rose eyes and the other is yellow.

But I still had one beautiful pot of healthy plants. Today, I tentatively moved aside some soil, a bit discouraged to see that the stems seemed to be separated from the roots only to discover:

The juvenile delinquent of some critter eating up my tubers.

A tuber with a grub in it. So I figured I'd dig up the rest but only found one other tuber equally eaten. As I have had mystery grub damage in sweet potatoes, regular potato and garlic, this might be an issue endemic to my back garden. I am in the midst of trying to ID the culprit. The oca was grown in a pot at the back though not in the questionable garden, so it is possible that it came on the tuber stock. I will be tossing the pot and its contents just in case.

These grubbed up tubers won't store but I wonder if they would grow (once I spear the grub). I plan on trying to grow then overwinter some oca plants so I won't be totally without next year.

You lost me at oca

Oxalis tuberosa comes from the Andean area of South America where it has a rich history of use including references to eating the greens but mostly the tubers are used. They taste like lemony potatoes I hear. The sour taste comes from oxalic acid (hence the name) such as found in swiss chard, rhubarb and spinach. Depending on the variety, the concentration of the acid varies as does their preparation. I believe, the ones that you would could get your hands on in the North half of the world are mostly/fully the lower oxalic acid variety so they are eaten much like potatoes. Their leaves are quite pretty, looking like weedy sorrels that you may nibble on in salads.

From what I've read, it is a well known veggie in New Zealand simply referred to as yams but other than those two locations, isn't cultivated much (please correct me if you've been spooning them up since you were a babe in other coordinates). However, lately there has been a resurgence of interest with European bloggers like Rhizowen Radix* including it in his root crop explorations. In North America, it is mainly grown in coastal areas as it is daylight sensitive so that it waits until the days shorten before it forms tubers. It is also killed by hard frost. They are left in the ground after light frosts as rapid tuberization happens at this time. Most of the references I've read have harvests in November or December.

Other than that annoying quality (the day length, temperature thing), they seem to be low care crops. As they stand some shade and from what I've read are not heavy feeders, many gardeners try them in polycultures as in oca test-bed's tomato-oca duo.

Another plant in need of further adaption to a wider variety of climates.

*Attention edible plant geeks: go check out this awesome blog. All that alliteration was for you Radix!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sweet Potato: Good and Bad

The Bad:

I've been meaning to try rooting and growing some sweet potato cuttings indoors just because I've always mentioned that it is possible. So I cut a few of my favourites, stuck them in a cup and watched them root. Yes, I've been meaning to plant them for a few weeks now. They root quickly. Unfortunately, something else took an interest in them: spider mites

Hanging out with their siblings, a whole lot of spider mites.

Before I threw them out, I figured, I'd take a picture for you to enjoy. 

Learning to Love the Vile Villians*: Spider Mites

Here's an interesting fact:

"Under optimal conditions (approximately 80 °F or 27 °C), the two-spotted spider mite can hatch in as little as 3 days, and become sexually mature in as little as 5 days. One female can lay up to 20 eggs per day and can live for 2 to 4 weeks, laying hundreds of eggs. A single mature female can spawn a population of a million mites in a month or less." 

Gee thanks Wiki. You can get rid of them with a solution of water and soap or at least you can try.

Why didn't I try to rescue the plants instead of tossing them out with their rooting water? Well, they were far gone and I didn't then population of spider mites to move on to other  house plants especially my seedlings.

By the way, it is possible to overwinter sweet potato cuttings. I've done it for fun with a grocery store bought variety that sprouted. I just had some bad luck. Let me know if it went better for you.

The Good:

Here, I showed you a comparison between one plus year old stored sweet potato roots and fresh roots. Well, I wondered if those old roots still had it in them to sprout. They do.

This variety is Fraiser White and its sprouts are bright green. I am also sprouting an orange variety, probably Georgia Jet with purplish growth.


* I actually am fascinated by the bugs of all kinds. Anywhere you go is a zoo of diversity. However, I'm also passionate about plants and sometimes the two of them don't share space in a way that provides me with a harvest. See multiple mentions of those seedling eaters: earwigs.
** Baby makes mommy post short posts edition: There will be lots of these but you didn't have time to slog through the usual book did you?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Time to gaze at baby seedlings!


German chamomile seedlings awaiting to overwinter. I've fall sown california poppies in the gaps to make floriferous display in the summer all going well.

Despite the fact that there's a hairy blanket of ice crystals coating the ground and you were looking forward to dreaming big garden dreams while cuddling seed catalogues, the garden has not stopped. Summer sprung seedlings are hunkering down for the winter and other seeds are waiting for a period of cold to break their dormancy.

Here are some of the reproductively independent in my garden.

Lettuce self seeds sparingly. These are the grandchildren of the original lettuces I planted here. They are from a speckled open rosette variety.

Not sure how frost tolerant these guys will be.

Chicory performs well sown in the fall for sprouting sometime in the summer. They should go to seed the following year so seeding two years in a row keeps them going (same goes for any other biennial like parsnip). I love the bitter bite of raddichio and sugarloaf so have a variety mixing it up genetically in the old orchard garden:

These sugarloafs originate from my old garden and arrived as seeds accidentally transported in transplanting soil when I moved some perennials. The original seed was purchased from William Dam probably 7 years ago or so. Planted once!

You may notice the winter salad theme to these seedlings and in that light here is a small variety of corn salad. Hoping to have a carpet of these next year.

Small compared to some varieties but the first variety to successfully grow well for me here. Hopefully larger leafed varieties will have a chance next year.

Biennial kale has been reseeding itself for a couple years now here. The spring crop was nearly wiped out by the flea beetles followed by a ravenous plague of earwigs. By fall, the herbivorous arthropod population had dwindled allowing these freshly germinated ones to survive.

Red Ursa, a hardy, tasty crop originally from Wild Garden Seeds. Flanders poppy seedlings growing alongside.

Another biennial I spotted being reproductive: parsnip. I had a fabulous crop in 2010 but 2011's were demolished by the earwigXdrought. Thankfully 2010 flowered this year to produce a nice seed crop followed by babies. We'll see if they overwinter and then if they go root or flower next year. I've noted (and have read) that immature biennials may spend another season growing before going to flower.

Parsnips growing with a common cool weather weed in the old orchard garden.

Lots of flowers are doing it too such as sweet williams, forget me nots, Coreopsis and Violas. Here they are spilling into the mulched path.

Violas and Coreopsis making their home in the wood chips.

Instead of leaving it all up to nature, you can lend a hand.

1. Sow winter hardy greens late in summer so that they hopefully overwinter under a blanket of snow or in a season extension device such as a cold frame. Carrots (yes really), spinach and lots of brassicas seem to handle this treatment well.
2. Sow self seeders in fall or in wintersown containers. Amaranth, corn salad, kale, lettuce, cosmos etc... are easily started this way.