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:
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:
What you get:
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) £12.90
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 another nice unusal 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.
Sow the bulbils 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 - let us know if you find a good solution! (Some people have suggested hiring a JCB digger and they might have a point) More helpfully one person suggested growing them in a stack of old tyres, but we've not heard back from them how well that worked.
The plants produce baby tubers in the leaf axils, and these can be used to produce new plants.
Grown for us by Andy Polkey. Not very hardy overwinter. Can maybe try outside in the South East of the UK , 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 large pea , £6.50
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.
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 has been incredibly popular - last year we grew loads but it all went really quickly. We keep planting more but can never keep up with demand.
If you have lost your OCA planting / harvesting instructions, please click here to get another copy: Oca Instructions
HOW MUCH DO YOU GET?
We will put 5 or 6 tubers in each packet (depends on variety),
So depending on the variety you'll definitely get 5 or 6 tubers (if they're big), or could get up to 9 (if they're small).
Scarlet Oca with White Eyes
This one has also been selected for production of large tubers and like all oca, is resistant to pretty much everything. Shown here about actual size.
Order OCSW six seed tubers (more if tiny) £8.60
Orange Oca with Red Eyes
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 darker. PLEASE NOTE that some of this years tubers are a bit darker orange than in the photo, but they are the correct type.
Order OCOR , packet of FIVE seed tubers (more if tiny) £8.60
This is a brand new oca of which we found a couple of years ago. We think it is a sport from Red Mexican, and it shows great promise.
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.
New variety, in very short supply - just ten packets available this year.
Order OCRo quite a small packet of five little seed tubers (more if tiny) £9.40
This beautiful new variety was selected by us from the orange oca (OcOR) in 2006 when we spotted one tuber in the harvest with a small yellow patch on its skin. We let it sprout, and rooted it to establish this beautiful new strain of yellow oca.
It makes slightly smaller tubers, and sets slightly later, than the others, so this is one for the oca collector rather than the novice oca grower.
Brand-new variety selected by us - very limited stocks this year. Limited to 1 packet per person.
Order OCYO - five seed tubers (more if tiny) £8.60
Helen's All Red Oca
For a while we thought we had lost this one but we did find a few tubers two years back and now have grown out some for you to try - just a few packets available this year!
Order OCHM- 5 little seed tubers £8.60
Franks Bicolour Oca
This was a new variety sent to us by Frank a couple of years ago. It makes its tubers a tiny bit later than the Orange or Scarlet+White varieties above, but they are slightly bigger, and you can get a good crop if you do not have early frosts.
Limited stocks this year. Limited to 1 packet per person.
Order OCBi - packet of FIVE seed tubers (we put more in though if they're tiny) £8.60
Cath Hillmans New Zealand Red (with black eyes)
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 £8.60
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 the ones we are used to, but there is a higher proportion of much bigger ones, so the overall yield is still very good, and of course there's less digging and washing to do with bigger tubers.
We think this will be a real success in the UK and are pleased to offer a few more packets this year.
Brand-new variety - limited stocks again this year. Limited to 1 packet per person.
Order OCDK - packet of FIVE seed tubers (we put more in though if they're tiny) £9.40
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, such as Red Mexican and Unknown Rose.
For example, a recent lot packed up had OCOR, OCSW, OCYO, 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.
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.
Order OCOR- 70 grams, at least six little seed tubers £14.90 - If possible, we will put in smaller tubers so we can fit in more different colours.
ONLY SOMETIMES AVAILABLE - If you can add it to your basket, you can order it. Otherwise we haven't got any.
~ 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.
It is important to have a sterile comfrey variety - although you can get varieties that make seed, they will then self seed all over your garden! This is the well known variety Bocking 14 which is considered the best variety for growing as a plant feed.
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, £6.50
Only available Jan - March each year, more available in January 2014