Frost: Not with a whimper, but a bang

Sprinkler pumping out a last ditch attempt to extend the oca season

Most years, frost here is a death by 1000 cuts.  We usually flirt with the freezing mark, not decisively crossing it until late December or even January.  This year, it looks like our growing season has ended all at once.

We hit a low of 28 degrees last night, seven degrees lower than forecast.  Because the forecast is not reliable here, we usually set up frost protection measures at 35 degrees, which we reached by eight o’clock last night.  So, I ran the sprinklers on the lower oca patch, covered the ulluco, and hoped for the best.

But, it was pretty clear this morning that the end of the season has come.  We will now start the timer to the main tuber harvest in about two weeks, unless temperatures are set to fall a lot farther in the meantime.

The sprinklers may have protected the oca to some degree.  We got a good coating of ice on the plants which means that the temperature was not able to drop below 32 degrees.  Unfortunately, 32 is enough to finish off many oca varieties.  We’ll probably have some damaged survivors among the Sunset and Hopin varieties, but the Mexican Red and Amarillo will most likely collapse once they thaw out.

Update: This worked out a little better than expected.  About a third of the plants closest to the sprinklers survived with very little damage once the ice melted, so if I can get them through tonight, we might actually get a few more weeks of growth out of them.  Two thirds took serious to total damage so we’ll be harvesting them soon.

The upper oca patch was a lost cause.  I couldn’t run sprinklers up there and usually rely on its hilltop position to keep the cold air drained away, but this freeze was too severe, so it is a total kill.  All of our seedlings are in containers and we brought them inside, so the indoor oca season will continue for however long they keep growing.

Mexican Red oca encased in ice

The ulluco was covered with sheets and looks pretty good, but the leaves are frozen hard, so I imagine this spells the end for them as well.

Frozen ulluco leaves

Update: After rewarming, the ulluco actually looks OK, so that’s a surprise.  This is at odds with my previous experience with ulluco.

The mashua, which is usually the most frost resistant of all the Andean plants, looks like it is also done for, or at least badly damaged.  It often shrugs off a frost, but I can already see the leaves going limp as the sun warms them.  That’s too bad, as I also just noticed that some seed pods had formed.  If I had realized that, I would have cut some vine segments and tried to mature them indoors.

Mashua going limp.  The hummingbirds will be disappointed.

Update: Another happy result.  Although it looks a bit worse for the wear and dropped all of its flowers, all of our mashua appears to have survived after it thawed out.  Even the seed pods appear OK.

So, that’s pretty much a wrap to the growing season.  We’ll have some survivors, but the first week of December will probably be our main harvest.  I would have liked a few more weeks and, unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have another stretch of mild weather after this cold snap, but it was just a bit too cold to nurse everything through.  That said, we’ve harvested quite a bit of oca, ulluco, and mashua already, all of it good size, so there’s no tragedy here, just a bit of lost opportunity.

One Response to Frost: Not with a whimper, but a bang

  1. Ian Pearson November 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

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