Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oca in Ottawa?

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Labelled and bagged oca (aren't I organized for once)

My first attempt to grow oca didn't work out so well but this time worked quite a bit better and was rather encouraging from a crop improvement perspective (not from a holy cow that's an awesome plant that could feed me perspective).

I received some tubers of a common variety called Sunset and another (though the critters scurried off with it) and some seeds. The seedlings look like a shiny sorrel:

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Oxalis tuberosa seedlings

They are a popular novelty crop in maritime climates like England, west coast of America etc..* where they thrive in cool, misty weather over a long frost free season. The tubers, reported to taste like lemony potatoes, don't even begin to form until days shorten in fall but they are killed by frost. Reading that, I thought, "why heck yeah, I want to try that in Ottawa, Canada!"

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Unhappily putting up with heat and sun.

Some common (though technically unseasonable) cold weather hastened my intended mid-November harvest to November 6. I had been covering them with plastic totes during the first frosts: Simple for a short row. So I pulled them and put them in bags and stored them - on the plants with soil - in the garage hoping to redirect some of the fleshy stem goodness to the tubers.

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Storing in bags - the whole lot was also covered with a frost blanket.

For dry plants, this worked well enough and one actually showed quite a bit of growth from first harvest:

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Pink and White seed grown oca.

Checking on them today, some of the wetter harvested plant stems were getting a bit mushy, so I decided to pull and compare.

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The whole harvest.

As the commercial variety Sunset survived the critter attack, I'm using it as a convenient control. It is a fast-to-bulk variety.

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Sunset on plant

Seedling yields were variable of course. Growing out from seed allows for selection from novel varieties. I choose the right hand side:

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The yield from two seedlings that had grown side by side.

Best yield was this pink and white one at 85 grams. P.S. This is a crappy yield but I was encouraged:

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Dreaming of this weigh scale being filled one day.

Here are some larger tubers with Canadian change for scale. Sunset (standard variety) on bottom:

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One of the fun things about oca is the variation in tuber colour.

Next year, I have some ideas to grow better, bigger plants with hopefully bigger, better yields. As it is, I found oca fun to grow. Selection from tubers is appealing as if you get something interesting, it is easy to clonally propagate.

P.S. I've heard of several successful non BC Canadian oca growers. Two live in close-to-maritime conditions favouring oca growth and one just developed this mania this year, growing them in Manitoba! With help from his heated oca-hut, he had quite a respectable harvest. There are also a handful (that I know of) of other crazy folk, like me, in less favourable locations in Ontario or should I say partners in plant exploration.

Other ocaphiles:

Radix rhizowen
Wetting the Beds

* New Zealand and South America are known to grow a few too.