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Another tuber from The Andes region of South America is ulluco, growing in a similar manner to Oca. I grew this for the first time last year and initially was very disappointed with the results but in retrospect have decided it has sufficient merits to warrant further experimentation.
The first problem to be encountered is the plant suffers badly from the ravishes of slugs and woodlice. They love these plants. If you have a serious slug problem then this plant may not be suited to your local conditions. Plants grew well enough but would have been bigger and stronger without the constant attacks. Given that 2007 was incredibly wet all summer and ideal for slugs, I am hoping this year may prove to be less problematic.
The second major problem is the fact that tubers are not produced until daylight hours are diminished, and this tuber producing period co-incides with the onset of frosts. Foliage is mashed to a pulp at the first touch of frost ending the productive period. Apart from the constantly wet season last year, early frost brought an end to the growing season at least three weeks earlier than expected leaving many tubers still in an embrio state.
Currently, the only trustworthy supplier of Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosum) in Great Britain is Realseeds.co.uk.
Ulluco tubers can be planted direct in the soil where they are to grow once the danger of frost has passed but as they are quite small it is prudent to start them into growth under cover by planting individually in small pots. This is the method I used last year and will continue along the same track this year. These plants remain quite small for many months and it makes better use of the land if they remain portable, even if they have to be repotted to larger containers.
As with the oca, ulluco remain smallish plants into midsummer before spreading to cover a much larger area. Ulluco tends to grow prostrate rather than erect and with this in mind I will be trying to grow them in conjunction with other crops to gain a better yield from the growing area.
When it came to harvesting the crop I found the tubers growing in all sorts of odd places rather than at the crown of the plant. Maybe it was just a bad year or maybe that is how they are supposed to be. Eventually I found it easiest to harvest by using the scuffle to rake them all to the surface for gathering up. The tubers appear to grow from leaf nodes where they are in contact with the soil therefore good crumbly soil may be vital to yield.
Yield was disappointing but I am blaming the weather mostly for this. Another difficulty with assessing these tubers is constantly comparing them with potatoes, which we all know and love. They are not potatoes. When boiled and mashed the taste was a bit bland and there were too few to experiment a great deal but there is scope for more adventurous cooks to incorporate them into fritters and the like. The real benefit of Ulluco is the fact that they can be eaten raw and maybe this is the best way to go with them. Having found a number of dodgers when preparing the old bed for a new crop, I cleaned them and ate them on the spot and found the taste more agreeable.