2012 was the year that credulous Mayan calendar watchers believed that apocalypse was coming, and not just to a theater near you. I try to avoid looking too strenuously for meaning in things, because it usually results in foolish conclusions, but I can’t help imagining a bunch of Mayans sitting around, laughing at the idea of a bunch of people freaking out about the end of a calendar that outlasted the civilization that invented it. By the same token, I can’t help but imagine a bunch of Incas sitting around, laughing at my attempt to grow ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus), a crop that may have been used as a practical joke on inexperienced Inca farmers.
|Several varieties of ulluco tubers|
If I manage to stick with writing throughout this year, you’ll probably be reading quite a few posts about ulluco. We grow four of the more common “lost” Inca crops – oca, ulluco, yacon, and mashua – and occasionally tinker with some of the lesser ones as well. We’ve gotten small harvests of oca and ulluco the last few years, primarily dug in the winter. This will be the first year that we try growing ulluco outdoors.
Unfortunately, it is also very frost-sensitive and doesn’t begin to form tubers until after the autumnal equinox. Our average first frost is November 15th. But, of course, that is an average. That first frost could happen any time between the second week of October and the end of December. If the frost occurs on November 15th, that is plenty of time to grow some ulluco. If it happens on October 10th, it might not be.
|My sad greenhouse ulluco plant.|
I’ve grown ulluco for a few years without any great success. Last year, I tried to grow it in the greenhouse over the winter, hoping to harvest a small crop of tubers to start more plants this year. I think that I succeeded in that, although the yield was pretty disappointing. The plant also didn’t do very well in the greenhouse.
As I understand it, ulluco cuttings root readily, so my backup plan is to slice and dice this plant into a bunch of cuttings in the event that my tubers don’t grow out this year.
|I understand that this is considered a bushel of ulluco outside of Peru.|
I think I have worked out some better strategies for growing ulluco. Raised beds for better isolation from slugs, full sun instead of partial shade, and soil that hasn’t been recently manured all figure into the mix.
I plan to experiment with different growing techniques to try to dial in a little more closely on the ideal growing conditions. I also have my little lab set up to do some micropropagation this year and have a few plantlets growing in glass. Reportedly, ulluco has a pretty high virus burden and meristem culture results in a much higher yielding crop. If the technique that I learned for potatoes works for ulluco, I should be able to get some clean stock to evaluate.