Ulluco: 2016 Wrap Up

Unveiling new ulluco varieties is starting to become a little routine.  Oh well, there is really no rut that I would rather be stuck in.

I reached a peak of 44 ulluco seedlings this year.  25 of them died, were culled due to obvious disease, or failed to set any tubers.  19 survived to the end of the growing season.  Five turned out yields of a pound or more, ranking them with the better heirlooms.  One of them, now named Taholah, yielded more than four pounds.  The rest turned out less impressive yields, but they seem to improve in the second year, when grown from tubers.

I noticed more variations in flavor and texture this year.  Some varieties have a very pronounced geosmin/beet flavor, while others have very little.  I also noticed differences in the perception of “starchiness,” which I think is a combination of flavor and texture.  One variety has very little geosmin flavor and also very little starchy flavor and this produces an effect similar to water chestnut.   They also range considerably in mucilaginousness (I hope that is a valid noun), from almost watery to a level of sliminess that I can’t compare to anything polite.  One of the white ones was so much slimier than any ulluco that I have ever tasted that I spit it out.  The worst part is that it was one of the white ones and I lost my tasting notes, so I will have to discover it again.  Thankfully, most of them were pretty close to what I now perceive to be the median.

All of these varieties will live on as breeding lines, at least through next year.  Every one of them set seed, which is very encouraging.  The average across all 19 varieties was just about 50 seeds per plant.  That is a substantial improvement over the parent varieties.  I still have only gotten seed from about half of the heirlooms and amounts so small from some that it will take years to get one that germinates.

You might notice the large number of white varieties.  This is very interesting to me, since none of the grandparent heirloom varieties were white.  Neither were any of the parent first generation crosses.  This is the beginning of puzzling out ulluco’s color genetics, which should be fun, although it will take a while since it is hard to produce statistically useful numbers of seedlings.

Also note the number of spotted varieties.  It has been an open question in my mind whether spots arise from somatic mutations or chimerism or whether they are inherited.  It seems pretty clear at this point that spots can be inherited.

The star of this year’s crop now has a name: Taholah.  It will take its place along with last year’s star varieties, Moclips and Humptulips, in the catalog next year, assuming that nothing goes askew between now and then.  (Incidentally, these aren’t just funny names that I made up; they are towns on the Washington coast.)  It has been submitted to the Open Source Seed Initiative as our newest open source variety.

ulluco-taholah-harvest

Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) ‘Taholah’

Taholah produced an astounding four pounds of tubers.  While this would be merely respectable in the Andes, it is quite a feat here.  Taholah began forming tubers in August, more than a month before the autumn equinox.  Since all of the heirloom varieties are short day tuberizers and produce nothing before the equinox, this is potentially a very big development.  I hope for a repeat performance next year.

I collected about the same amount of seed as last year: just over a thousand.  I could have probably collected five times as much with so many varieties with improved fertility, but it is my time that limits the amount of seed that I can produce.  Hand pollinating ulluco is a slow, painstaking process with a low success rate.  I hope to see more seeds forming in the future without hand pollination.  I do see that on occasion and, with fertility on the rise, perhaps there will come a point where the plants take care of themselves.

There is still a long way to go.  The long game centers on wider climate tolerance and day neutral tuberization, without losing any ground in flavor or appearance, but the short term is focused almost entirely on improving fertility.

3 Responses to Ulluco: 2016 Wrap Up

  1. starbuck ennis December 14, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    man, i gotta say, I’m loving this blog.
    have you guys ever considered doing some youtube videos or something?
    showing the processes you use to manage these projects?

    i would watch it.
    i mean there are far fewer videos demonstrating hand pollination than you would think.

    • bill December 16, 2016 at 7:08 pm #

      We’ve talked about doing some videos, but I’m a lot more comfortable with writing. I’ll add your vote to the pile though – you aren’t the first to ask. Thanks!

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    […] ways and is also underappreciated as a leaf crop in addition to the tubers. On top of all that, I have the fantastic luck to be able to breed it, something that nobody else on the planet has had much success with. That makes it feel […]

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