RARE & UNUSUAL TUBERS: YACON, OCA, CINNAMON VINE and COMFREY
Yacon is a large plant from South America, distantly related to sunflowers, and it has huge, attractive fuzzy green leaves. It has very pretty little yellow flowers at the top of each stalk.
The plants are very easy to grow and seem to thrive in almost any soil or climate. Underground, it grows a bit like a dahlia - with a small clump of knobbly growing tips, and large storage tubers radiating out in a circle.
At the end of the season you dig it all up and the storage tubers are the bit you eat - they are really sweet and crunchy. The knobbly growing tips you divide and replant, so you don't need to keep buying it.
The sweet storage tubers are peeled before use - and nice two ways: raw in salads, and stir fried as a substitute for water-chestnut.
The tubers store very well and its a very welcome addition to our winter salads.
A final interesting point about Yacon is that the type of sugar in the tubers is inulin - the same as in Jerusalem Artichokes - and for which most people don't have a digestive enzyme - so it has almost no calorific value whatsoever, despite its sweetness.
How it is propagated:
The plant makes a lumpy mass of growing tips at the bottom of the stem. We cut these apart, and post them out packed in a small handful of compost. Each yacon set will be a lump of root, maybe about 1 cm square, maybe a bit bigger, with a growing tip on it.
What you have to do:
As soon as you receive them - RIGHT AWAY - you put these in small pots with nice, slightly damp compost. They will make roots and once they are a bit bigger, after all danger of frost is past - you can plant them out in the garden.
What you get:
We are selling you 1 yacon. But we actually send you 3 growing tips to be sure of success, and in fact we expect on average, that 2 of these will grow.
We will replace or refund if you do not get 1 surviving plant from the 3 tips, as long as you plant them in a pot as soon as you get them.
For future years you should not need to purchase again as you can divide each plant yourself in the same way to give 3 to 7 new plants each time!
Order TuYA- a yacon growing tip (3 growing tips actually supplied, one resulting plant guaranteed) £
The folks at Brithdir have been also growing Yacon for a while and they've pointed out that you can also mash and press your yacon tubers to get juice, which can then be boiled down to a nice sweet syrup like maple syrup. Here's Josie's friend Finn pressing the yacon at our local green fair (using a normal apple press), and then you can see the syrup we made by boiling it on our Rayburn for a while. We had some on waffles that evening and it was great.
~ Cinnamon Vine ~
Andy's Cinnamon Vine
This is a nice unusual edible plant, but to be honest is probably grown more for amusement rather than as a staple part of your diet. Our favourite thing about it is the incredible cinnamon scent that fills the air when it is flowering.
The plants make 2 types of tuber - a huge underground one that is impossible to dig up, and small 'air-tubers' attached to the stem at the base of each leaf. It requires very little maintenance - the top growth dies back in winter but then resprouts in spring.
They also have hundreds of small white flowers, which give off an intense cinnamon scent, fantastic in your polytunnel.
On receipt, either start the bulbils in a small pot, or plant them into a well manured weed free site, somewhere you can give them a support to climb. Be patient - bulbils may take some time to sprout in their first year.
Plants take 3-4 years to reach full maturity - the big edible root can then be up to 3 foot long, going straight down vertically. Digging it up is an interesting challenge! (Some people have suggested hiring a JCB digger and they might have a point). More helpfully, other gardeners grow them in deep tubs, stacks of old tyres or similar, and this is probably a more sensible approach if you aren't very, very fond of digging.
The plants produce baby tubers in the leaf axils, and these can be used to produce new plants.
Not very hardy overwinter. Can maybe try outside in the South East of the UK once established (start in a pot), but probably only for growing in a polytunnel in the rest of the country.
Order TuAC - six little aerial tubers, about the size of a small pea, £
This is a favourite of ours from South America. Oca is grown and used just like new potatoes, although they are smaller than potatoes. It has a lemony taste and is very easy to grow as long as you have a moderately long season. It is completely unrelated to potatoes and so of course not affected by blight.
One of the 'Lost Crops' of the Incas, this is one of the staples of people in Bolivia & Peru. A very easy crop to grow, with a taste just like potatoes with lemon sauce. No need to peel, just boil and serve with butter. Mmmmm.
And the lush green foliage with yellow flowers is actually rather pretty in its own right. Very few pests seem to like it, so its a real 'no work' crop.
The tubers start to form in short days, usually in mid November, so if you have early frosts this is NOT for you.
On the other hand, if the autumn is mild you should get a big crop of surprisingly large tubers. We got about 1/2 a kilo of Oca from each tuber planted last year.
We have grown it successfully for years: both in Cambridge and on the west coast of Wales, but we don't know how it would fare further north. It is very easy to multiply up - you just keep a few tubers back for replanting. So if you like it you don't need to buy it each year but just replant your own.
More details on storage and cooking included with your tubers. The oca is always incredibly popular - every year we think we must have planted enough, and it still goes very quickly. Apologies if we've run out of a variety that you wanted to try, but we do have a good selection, and we think you will find something fun to grow.
If you have lost your OCA planting / harvesting instructions, please click here to get another copy: Oca Instructions
HOW MUCH DO YOU GET?
These are little seed tubers, it's like planting seed potatoes, but smaller.
If you like them, just keep some of your own back for future years - you'll not need to buy them again.
We will put 5 tubers in each packet (depends on variety),
but if they are small we will put more in to make it up to a minimum weight.
So depending on the variety you'll definitely get 5 tubers (if they're big), or could get up to 9 (if they're small).
A variety selected by us a few years back, Strawberry Cream has slightly pointy tubers that are a mix of creamy white and pink, very pretty!
We've had a really good yield of this variety in 2014/15 with lots of large tubers. We particularly like them for their unusual variegated colouring.
Order OCSC packet of FIVE seed tubers (more if tiny) £
'Pure White' Oca
This makes beautiful creamy white tubers - well, perhaps a very, very pale yellow would be more accurate.
We've grown this one for years and years, and it usually does well. (This one prefers lighter soils, rather than heavy soggy clay.)
Like all oca, they are absolutely delicious par-boiled then roasted. This one is good mixed in with mashed potato too.
Orinigally sent to us by Frank Kiersbilck in Belgium, who got them from a collection in Ireland.
Order OCWH- 5 little seed tubers (more if tiny) £
It has a slightly different shape from normal, and very interestingly, the tubers change colour a few weeks after being dug up - they start out a pale rose colour and then slowly darken to a deep dusky purple.
Order OCRo packet of FIVE seed tubers £
Scarlet Oca with White Eyes
A deep red strain that we have had for years and years, it makes beautiful tubers with pure white outlines over the eyes. This one has also been selected for production of reasonable sized tubers and like all oca, is resistant to pretty much everything. Very pretty!
Order OCSW packet of FIVE seed tubers (more if tiny) £
Cath Hillmans New Zealand Red (with black eyes)
This red oca has a small amount of black pigment outlining each 'eye' on the tuber, which is quite subtle but has a striking effect. It was sent to us by Cath Hillman in Surrey, who is originally from New Zealand.
There's an interesting story in this - in the 1970's and 1980's the NZ goverment decided to research unusual plants that would grow there and could be high-value export crops.
They did find and breed several things with varying success- you will probably know the Kiwi Fruit which was good, but also the (disgusting) Kiwano Horned Melon, which is not even fit for pig food (but it looks cool so everyone buys them once).
However, few people outside NZ know they also had a government-funded oca research programme. Like us, they tried to breed new varieties from seed (oca seed is very rare). It was quite sucessful, and although not exported (we don't know why) oca are commonly sold in supermarkets in NZ, though they are just called 'Yams' by the New Zealanders.
Back to our story, Cath liked them very much, so when she found herself living in the UK she missed having them to eat. She eventually got hold of some from a NZ supermarket and grew them in Surrey, where they did just fine. And she later sent us some of hers to swap for our others; they did well for us and we have been bulking them up ever since.Order OCNZ- at least 5 little seed tubers £
Orange Oca with Red Eyes
A strain that makes beautiful orange tubers with swirly scarlet outlines over the eyes. This one does well for us in Wales and we think that in an average season it is one of our highest-yielding varieties.
We have been selecting these for bigger tubers for several years, and it is one of our best. Shown here about actual size.
Interestingly, with this variety, the shade of orange varies each year, we think that different weather makes them come out lighter or darker.
Order OCOR , packet of FIVE seed tubers (more if tiny) £
This interesting oca was sent to us in 2007 by Dylan Keating, who we think got them originally from his brother in Peru. We received two and a half (!) tiny shrivelled tubers from Cornwall, and have slowly been building up our stocks ever since.
It is a very nice colour, and a different shape to our other oca varieties - fatter and more egg-like.
It makes slightly fewer tubers per plant than other varieties, but with a bigger average tuber size, so the overall yield is still very good, and of course there's less digging and washing to do with bigger tubers.
Order OCDK - packet of FIVE seed tubers (we put more in though if they're tiny) £
Helen's All Red Oca
This is a dark red Oca variety that was given to us in 2004. It is dark red all over - no white bits - and does really quite well for us. It had been grown for several years in Wales before we got it and makes good sized tubers with not too many tiddlers. A good choice for a decent yield and very pretty tubers.
Order OCHM- 5 seed tubers (more if tiny) £
For those of you who can't decide, here we offer a mix of different oca varieties of our choice. We make these up from all the remaining tubers when we've been packing lots of other oca types.
We'll include at least 4 different types in the mixed pack, and these tend to be smaller tubers simply so that we can include more colours in the weight of a packet.
Many people write to ask what varieties they'll get, but we really can't say, it depends on what we have to hand. It is however likely to include at least some orange (OcOR) and Scarlet & White (OcSW) because we have so much of them. We also tend to put in the odd tuber of any other varieties that we don't have enough of to pack on their own.
For example, a recent lot packed up had OCOR, OCSW, OCWH, OCDK, and Red Mexican in it, one or two quite small tubers of each. But from these small tubers you should be able to bulk up a quite decent number of plants in a couple of growing seasons. As the tubers are smaller, you may want to start them off in pots and then plant out in the ground once they have got going.
All the mixed bags packed at a particular time have the same mix of tubers in them, so for those of you who asked, if you bought 2 bags you wouldn't get any extra varieties, you'd get two lots the same. If possible, we will put in smaller tubers so we can fit in more different colours.
Order OCMx- 70 grams, at least six little seed tubers. £
New Zealand Heirloom No2
A really excellent pale pink oca from the collection of Frank Van Keirsbilck. This one yields very well, with pretty tubers, and a large average tuber size. Easy to dig as well, with the tubers clustered close together.
It did particularly well in the wet of 2013, and has produced very well again this season - definitely one that we will keep on our list for regular large scale production.Order OCZH - at least 5 little seed tubers (more if tiny) £
This is a really exciting new variety which we've only recently been able to offer in quantity.
It has a most unusual shape - unlike any other oca we've ever grown - with a diagonal texture to the surface like the outside of a pinecone, each triangle being outlined in pink.
Starting from one tuber in 2011, we've selected it for several years now & it always produces good sized tubers, giving a good yield from each plant.
Definitely one of our prettiest ocas.
Order OCBi - packet of FIVE seed tubers (we put more in though if they're tiny) £
~ Comfrey ~
Comfrey crown cuttings
Not strictly an unusual tuber, but a very useful plant to have in your garden all the same.
Comfrey is a fantastic resource for organic gardeners; incredibly hardy, quite shade tolerant, and excellent at scavenging nutrients from deep down in the soil and producing large amounts of top growth that you can cut several times per season. You can mulch with it, compost it, but probably the best single use is rotted into a liquid plant food ideal for tomatoes and many other high value crops.
We supply you with three crown cuttings. These will establish quickly and can then be divided further in future seasons.
Three small crown cuttings as pictured. Pot up on receipt then plant out into the garden once established.
Order MnCF - three crown cuttings ready to root, £