Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New block is rotary hoed

It has been an interesting week. First the computer had a little melt down which resulted in me taking a quick visit to the mount to buy another. After getting my computer guy to take out the second memory thing out of the first computer and install it in the second now I have to go through about 563 confusing steps to get to my photos and stuff , and I don't really know how to fix that. Maybe if I was 30 years younger I would be better with computers.

I finally got my new seed block rotary hoed yesterday. They were only supposed to do the first four acres of it but I obviously didn't explain it properly and they ended up doing the lot, almost seven acres.

We there is no way I can find another 4 thousand dollars or so to put down the watering system on the extra so I don't know what I am going to do now. I will probably just end up ignoring the area I can't afford to water. On the upside the soil is so fine and looks great.

I started putting down some of the irrigation pipe today but I will need a few more fittings before I can do any more.

I also notice that the are a heap of feral pigeons hanging around. Ok, so I have to worry about them as well as the cockies, wallabies and rabbits. I will be spending a bit of netting I think.

Continuing on with the theme of working out what to do with the undersized oca tubers, I made a jar of pickled oca and another jar of salt fermented oca.
The pickled oca was ready today so I had a taste. It is different, quite nice and crunchy but I think I will have to wait another two or three days for it to be right.

The fermented tubers are still doing their stuff for another 6 days. I will take a pic of them when they are ready.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cooking oca

Yeah, I know, you are probably getting sick of oca posts - but they are all harvested now so you will not be getting any more till planting in spring, lol.

Today I am going over cooking oca as there are not many recipes for them on the net. Most recipes call for them to be cooked like potatoes, which is mostly correct but there are much more to oca.

Sure oca can be cooked like potato. They can be baked, boiled, fried and added to casseroles but my favourite method is microwaving which cooks them so much quicker than baking with the same outcome in taste.

The thing that oca has over potatoes is that if you let them dehydrate for a few weeks they sweeten so much that they (well nearly all the varieties you will come across) can be eaten raw like fruit. Of course, you don't have to leave them that long to eat them raw, only a week or two out of the ground and they are sweet enough to chop raw into salads. If you eat them straight out of the ground they will have a lemony tang about them which lessens and often goes completely the longer in storage.

Hot and cold oca salad

 Wash the oca tubers (give a scrub with a nail brush if they have dirt stuck on them) and place in a bowl.
Mix 1kg of tubers with two tablespoons each of honey, chopped onion and bacon pieces. If you don't use bacon add a pinch of salt.

Drizzle with oil and roast at 180c for 45 mins to an hour (10 minutes or less in a microwave), until the tubers are soft.
When oca is fully cooked it startes to break down and go soft all the way through.

Unfortunately oca loses its colour any way it is cooked.

The tubers now can be added hot to other salad ingredients (or just eat them hot as they are), like shredded lettuce and tomato for a warm salad.

Or let them go cold and chop and make into a cold salad with lettuce, tomato and avocado.

One other thing - oca leaves and chopped stems taste lemony and can be added to salads raw, and some people even cook the juicy stems into tarts as a rhubarb alternative.

Hmmm, I have just decided to think of a couple more recipes to use up some of the left over smaller than eating size tubers that are always in the way. I think you will have to put up with a couple more oca, and maybe yacon recipes in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Winter tasks between showers

Unfortunately the showery weather over the last week means that I don't have much to report. The weeds are not growing fast so it is easy to keep them under control and it has been too damp to want to go out and do any work.

 However I did get out and do a couple of small jobs between the showers as I am already getting a bit stir crazy.
I started digging up the last two beds of yacon. You can see that it has not completely died down but since we have a long growing season the tubers are at full size so it is not going to damage them. I just have to find a place to store all the eating and planting tubers, about twice as much as last year. I think I will have to buy some more big rubbish bins for them.
I found that they store well when layered in bins with damp coir fibre.

Something else I got done today is prune all the young grapes I have growing on an old fence between two of my block.
They are very nice varieties so I also put a heap of cuttings in also with the prunings.

I am waiting for my new seed block to be rotary hoed which might be a couple of weeks away, then I will take a week or two off to go and visit some friends over Geelong way, then I might spend some time hiking in the bush around here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mulching experiment with yacon and oca

I have just finished digging the last of the oca and some of the yacon. After reading this little article on mulching potatoes: http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/mulching-potatoes-straw   I decided to do a bit of experimenting with mulching myself.

Last spring I planted six beds each of oca and yacon - two each with a thick straw mulch, two each with no straw just like usual, and two each with no mulch and no summer shade.

When I first tried growing oca many years ago I mulched it and all the tubers rotted. At the time I did note to myself that the mulch and the soil was too wet which is what contributed to the rotting but it did put me off mulching and I have  advised people against it since. I have to admit now that I was wrong and I should have tried it again.

Here are the results of my experiment.
Mulched bed - The tubers took weeks longer than the bare bed to shoot which is not a problem in my long growing season but I did worry that the tubers had rotted and did overplant one of the mulched beds with melons, which actually did surprisingly well growing in among the oca when they did get going.
The plants took a long time to catch up to the height of the bare bed plants but the eventual harvest was around the same.
Usual unmulched beds with summer shade: The harvest was a bit down on last year but still ok. I usually use shadecloth for my yacon until they grow too large for the covers.
Unmulched beds with no summer shade: These plants stayed very small and sickly, around 60 or so cm tall. They all survived but the harvest was abysmal and there were very few eating size tubers.

Conclusion: Yacon need shade when small here in summer but mulch is unnecessary.

Mulched bed: The tubers took weeks longer than the bare beds to shoot which is not a problem, later shooting even seems to help with plant health. The tubers came up in dribs and drabs which made me think that some tubers had rotted but eventually they all grew.

The plants were bigger and healthier with very little stem rot problems. They took a couple of weeks longer than those in the bare beds to die down after the frost weather started which seemed to give them more time to grow their tubers. The harvest was much better than the bare beds and with a much bigger proportion of eating size tubers (over 5cm). The tubers were also cleaner and easier to harvest. Most plants gave just under 1kg of tubers.
I was worried about mouse and slug damage but there was little evidence of either though I think in another year with more mice they might prefer to live in a mulched bed.

Usual unmulched beds with shadecloth covers: Harvest was down this year with a large proportion of small tubers. Usual amount of stem rot. Shadecloth was left on all summer and until the first frosts in late autumn.

Bare beds with no shade: As I expected nearly every plant died during the heat of summer, only two plants survived with no shade and that was only because a nearby plant gave them a little afternoon shade. They produced only a handful of tiny tubers.

Conclusion: Clean mulch really makes a huge difference in oca plant health and harvest size. I am still a bit worried about pest problems but I think the mulch is still worth it. Next spring I will experiment to see whether straw or geocloth makes a better mulch.

Just an extra note: I also hilled up another bed of oca when they started showing a lot of stem rot in the hope that it would help the plants put out new roots from the good parts of the stems. It worked well and when the weather cooled down in autumn (the heat seems to cause the stem rot) they had a new lease on life and started to grow vigorously and produce tubers.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ulluco and oca taste test

Over the last week we have had a couple of inches of rain which is great but stopped me from doing much work, well, there isn't much to do now anyway.

I have been planning my drip irrigation system for the new seed block and it is going to cost a lot more than I expected. Oh well, as long as I do it right it will pay for itself in the long run. I am going to be poor for a long time. Not much change there then :)

 My two little ulluco tubers have shot well. I am having to molly coddle them, at least for the next couple of months till we are getting more than twelve hours of sunlight a day.
Because they are awake now instead of going dormant I am having to keep them growing till spring when they will be able to cope without the extra care.
I am taking them out to the poly house during the day for the stronger light and inside at night in the hope that the room lights are enough for them.

I did my oca taste test on my new seedlings today. I waited a week till they were showing some signs of dehydration but I should have waited a bit longer for them to sweeten further.

There wasn't a lot of difference in the taste of most of them - just different amounts of starchiness, sweetness and sourness, but I will leave the tubers a bit longer to dry them out a bit more and taste them again.

There were a three that were definitely keepers on taste, and luckily one of those also scored well for production. They had a lovely blend of starchiness and sweetness that I particularly liked. next year when they are out in the ground they will be more harshly judged and the serious culling will leave me with only two or three to go on with.
The one I showed in a past post with the extra long stolons was one with a very pleasant taste so I am curious to see whether the long stolons will be enough to have it culled even though I like the taste.
This is so much fun.