Buyer’s Guide for Andean Roots and Tubers

Update:

This was one of the first posts at the Wetting the Beds blog, reworked and reposted a number of times.  It was written originally before Cultivariable was formally in business, so it fits in a little oddly now that the blog is hosted at our web site.  I have removed some of the opinions about other suppliers, not because any of them were negative, but simply because they are at least nominally competitors and it doesn’t feel right recommending which you should patronize.  I don’t update this document frequently anymore, but I do check for dead links and add new suppliers on request, since this is one of the most popular posts on the blog.

(If you would like to be added as a supplier, just send us an email.)

Last update: May 28, 2015

Contents

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)
Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus)
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)
Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)

oca-harvest-sample

Over the past few years (2008-2012), I bought oca (Oxalis tuberosa) from just about anyone who I could find selling it, since I was seeking to get the maximum possible diversity.  In the process, I wasted some money, since I got redundant varieties from people who didn’t know which varieties that were selling and got some disease-carrying oca from a few places as well.  But, I got a good picture of the small oca market in the USA.  

(Bear in mind that all of my posts, but particularly this one, are focused on growing oca in the US, since that is where I live.  Oca is a lot more popular in the UK and Europe and information is easier to come by.  If you are looking to buy oca in Europe, I suggest that you start with the Real Seed Catalogue; they offer several excellent varieties.  Also take a look at Deaflora and Ruhlemann’s in Germany.  A web search should easily turn up other vendors and reading the blogs Growing Oca and Radix should help you to uncover other sources.)

Where to buy oca

If you aren’t picky about varieties, you can probably find oca for sale year-round in the US, which is a considerable improvement from the situation just a few years ago.  If you want specific varieties, you will probably need to consult multiple catalogs and make your purchases over the winter.

You can get named varieties of oca from Cultivariable (where you are reading this post), Fry Road NurseryPeace Seedlings, and Sacred Succulents.  You may have to inquire about the currently available varieties if they are not listed specifically. They are not the only suppliers of oca, but most other companies tend to offer a single, unnamed variety (which is usually Hopin).

Many of the above suppliers offer mixed oca, but there are others who exclusively offer mixed varieties.  These include Horizon Herbs and Windmill Hill Farms.

If you are a member, you should also take a look at the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, where you will usually find a few members offering oca.

Some suppliers offer tubers, some offer plants, and some offer both.  The window for ordering tubers is roughly from January to April, since they will be done growing by January in most areas of the US where oca can grow and they will begin to sprout again by April.  Tubers are the easiest way to go if you want to start a patch of oca, but plants may be the only option during some parts of the year.  If you want to grow a big patch of oca, but have missed out on tuber sales, you might consider ordering a plant and taking a bunch of cuttings from it.  Oca cuttings root readily and don’t do most of their growing until after July, so cuttings taken early in the season can give you a large number of plants the same year.
 
Suppliers Summary
Tuber Suppliers Plant Suppliers Seed Suppliers
Cultivariable (Winter-Spring) Fry Road Nursery (Year round) Cultivariable
Nichols Nursery (Spring) Horzon Herbs (Spring-Fall)  
Peace Seedlings (Winter-Spring) One Green World (Spring)  
Sacred Succulents (Winter-Spring) Raintree (Spring)
Windmill Hill Farms (Winter-Spring?) Sacred Succulents (Summer-Fall)
  Territorial Seed (Spring)

Buying plants vs. tubers

For me, this is a pretty simple matter.  Would you buy potato plants instead of seed potatoes?  If you would, the same reasoning probably applies to oca.  Given the choice between a plant and a tuber, I would take the tuber, but you don’t always have a choice.  Most suppliers end tuber sales in Spring, after which your choices are limited to plants or seeds.

Buying seeds vs. tubers

Most people don’t grow potatoes from seeds unless they are interested in breeding new varieties.  The situation is pretty much the same with oca.  If you want to breed your own varieties and have a high tolerance for variability in the crop and/or a low tolerance for the possibility of importing viruses in your tubers, seeds might be a good choice for you.  If you want known varieties of oca with consistent performance, stick to tubers.  If you live in a country where oca hasn’t been introduced and you cannot import tubers, seed is a good way to get started.

When to buy

You can probably get tubers any time between December (when harvest begins in most of the US) and May (when most will have sprouted).  But, if you want less common varieties, you should buy them as soon as they are available.  Of course, you’ll assume the risk for keeping them over the winter, but oca stores pretty much like a potato, so if you can keep potatoes, you don’t have much to worry about.

If you want to buy plants, most suppliers have a pretty short shipping window in April and May, although some offer plants whenever they are not selling tubers.

Certified seed tubers

Potato growers are familiar with certified seed tubers, which have been tested to ensure that fall below a certain threshold for various viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.  There is no certification program in place for oca at this time and it probably isn’t necessary due to both oca’s resilience and the economic insignificance of the crop.  That said, oca tubers can carry diseases like any other tuber, so choose a reputable vendor.  Stem rots are occasionally introduced through tubers.

 

Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus)

ulluco-harvest-3Ulluco is offered by only a few suppliers in the US and, somewhat surprisingly (given their more enthusiastic adoption of oca) practically impossible to find for sale in Europe. 

Where to buy ulluco

You can get named varieties of ulluco from Cultivariable (where you are reading this), Fry Road Nursery, possibly Horizon Herbs, and Sacred Succulents.  You may have to inquire about the currently available varieties if they are not listed specifically.  Ulluco is occasionally available on eBay as well, but be careful buy ulluco from sources that do not have a track record of providing healthy stock (more on that below).

If you are a member, you should also take a look at the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, although ulluco is only offered intermittently.

If you are looking to buy ulluco in Europe, the only source that I am aware of is Ruhlemann’s in Germany, although there is often ulluco available on eBay in the UK.

Suppliers Summary

Tuber Suppliers Plant Suppliers
Cultivariable (Winter-Spring) Fry Road Nursery (Year round)
Sacred Succulents (Winter-Spring) Horzon Herbs (Spring-Fall)
  Sacred Succulents

Buying plants vs. tubers

See the oca section above.  My opinion is the same: buy tubers if you can.

Buying seeds vs. tubers

This decision is currently very easy.  Ulluco seeds are so rare and difficult to produce that nobody sells them.  This may change in time, if new seed-grown varieties prove to have better seed production.

When to buy

Buy ulluco whenever you find the one that you’re looking for, because quantities are likely to be low at any supplier.  Tubers are generally available from January through April or May and plants the rest of the year.

Certified seed tubers

Potato growers are familiar with certified seed tubers, which have been tested to ensure that fall below a certain threshold for various viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.  There is no certification program in place for ulluco at this time.  It would probably be a good idea, because ulluco accumulates diseases easily.  However, due to the economic insignificance of the crop, such a program seems unlikely. Be careful when buying ulluco; there are some sources out there that have sold us badly infected tubers (none of them are listed here; all suppliers in this post have provided excellent stock on the occasions that we have purchased from them.)

Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

mashua-mix-earlyThere are only a few suppliers offering mashua alongside other edibles, but it can be found in some unexpected places, because it is sometimes sold as an ornamental, rather than an edible.

Where to buy mashua

Although you can sometimes find suppliers of ornamental plants selling mashua, you should probably focus on sellers of edible plants, or at least do your homework.  There are two versions of mashua commonly sold as ornamentals under the name Ken Aslet in the US, one of which is the true version, which is day neutral, and the other of which looks almost the same but is a short day plant.  Both varieties rank among the least palatable varieties (in my opinion, of course.)

You can get named varieties of mashua from Cultivariable (yep, you’re already here), Far Reaches FarmFry Road NurseryHorizon HerbsPeace Seedlings, and Sacred Succulents.  You may have to inquire about the currently available varieties if they are not listed specifically. These are not the only suppliers of oca, but most other suppliers of edibles tend to offer a single, unnamed variety (which is usually pilifera / Blanca / White Colombian).

If you are a member, you should also take a look at the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, where you will sometimes find members offering mashua.

If you are looking to buy mashua in Europe, take a look at Deaflora in Germany.

Suppliers Summary

Tuber Suppliers Plant Suppliers Seed Suppliers
Cultivariable (Winter-Spring) Far Reaches Farm (Spring-Fall?) Cultivariable
Peace Seedlings (Winter-Spring) Fry Road Nursery (Year round)  
Sacred Succulents (Winter-Spring) Horzon Herbs (Spring-Fall)  
  Raintree (Spring)  
  Sacred Succulents (Summer-Fall)  


Buying plants vs. tubers

See the oca section for my full opinion.  In short, I prefer tubers.

Buying seeds vs. tubers

Most people don’t grow potatoes from seeds unless they are interested in breeding new varieties.  The situation is pretty much the same with mashua.  If you want to breed your own varieties and have a high tolerance for variability in the crop and/or a low tolerance for the possibility of importing viruses in your tubers, seeds might be a good choice for you.  If you want known varieties of mashua with consistent performance, stick to tubers.  If you live in a country where mashua hasn’t been introduced and you cannot import tubers, seed is a good way to get started.

When to buy

Day neutral varieties of mashua may be available as tubers from October – April.  Short day varieties (most of the currently available varieties) are probably available from December – April.  Plants may be available year round, but mashua grows into a pretty large plant, so new plants are likely to produce pretty small yields if started later in the year.

Certified seed tubers

Potato growers are familiar with certified seed tubers, which have been tested to ensure that fall below a certain threshold for various viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.  There is no certification program in place for mashua at this time and it probably isn’t necessary.  Mashua is generally very disease resistant and the economic value of the crop is insignificant.

Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYacon has become very popular in various forms as a processed fad diet supplement in recent years, so I am surprised that there aren’t more sources.  Of all the non-potato Andean roots and tubers, yacon is probably the most recongized by name, but not many people are actually eating the tubers.  Please drop the pills, folks, and try some real, fresh yacon from your own garden instead.

Yacon is sold either as plants or as pieces of dormant rhizome.

Where to buy yacon

In Euope, your first stops for Andean roots and tubers should be the Real Seed Catalogue in the UK and Deaflora in Germany.

In North America, almost nobody sells named varieties and the naming is very inconsistent among those that do.  You can get named varieties of yacon from Cultivariable (yep, you’re already here) and Sacred Succulents.  You can get unnamed yacon (which I suspect is Sweet Crisp == Early White), from most other suppliers.  Yacon varieties are very hard to tell apart.  If you just want to eat yacon, then this probably matters little to you.  If you want to acquire genetic diversity for breeding purposes, you’re likely to get some duplicates, possibly even from the same supplier.

If you are a member, you should also take a look at the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, where you will sometimes find members offering yacon.

Suppliers Summary
Rhizome Suppliers Plant Suppliers
Cultivariable (Winter-Spring) Fry Road Nursery (Year round)
MoonRidge Farms(Winter-Spring) Horizon Herbs (Spring-Fall)
Peace Seedlings (Winter-Spring) Nichols Nursery (Spring)
Sacred Succulents (Winter-Spring) Raintree (Spring)
  Sacred Succulents (Summer-Fall)


Buying plants vs. rhizome

Flip a coin.  Rhizome stores poorly, but if you pot it as soon as you receive it, you should be able to keep it alive as a potted plant until planting time.  Buying a plant is more certain, but also more expensive.  Poor dormancy makes yacon a little more challenging to start than the other plants in this post.

Buying seeds vs. tubers

This decision is currently very easy.  Yacon seeds are so rare and difficult to produce that nobody sells them.  This may change as yacon seed production is becoming better understood.  Yacon seeds will be of greater interest to breeders, since the plant is a polyploid and will not breed true.

When to buy

In climates with frost, I recommend holding off to buy yacon in spring, unless you are willing to pot the rhizome and allow it to sprout and grow inside before you can plant it out.  In frost-free climates, you can buy and plant year-round.  Yacon propagules are much more prone to degrading over the winter than most of the other Andean crops, so you are better off letting your supplier take the risk holding the inventory than buying early, unless you are after an uncommon variety.

Certified seed tubers

Potato growers are familiar with certified seed tubers, which have been tested to ensure that fall below a certain threshold for various viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.  There is no certification program in place for yacon at this time and it probably isn’t necessary.  Yacon is generally very disease resistant and the economic value of the crop is insignificant, although it is rapidly increasing.

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