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Unusual Vegetables. Yacón.

Sweet but not fattening.

Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

Pot grown Yacon.

This was a new one for me in 2008 and I knew little about it apart from some reading. The plant produces two different types of tubers, growth tubers and storage tubers and the theory is that when harvested, you eat the big storage tubers and throw back the small growth tubers for replanting. A bit like fishing really.

Spring care. Starting into growth.

Yacon growth tubers.

As with any plant that is new or rare, they are quite expensive to buy at the moment and as well as costing lots of money the stems and foliage of yacón are easily damaged by frost. Therefore it is best to start the plants into growth in pots under cover.

The crown of the plant consists of a number of knobbly growth buds which can be cut and divided if required provided one or more growing points are left on each piece. In my first year I kept one in a 20 litre pot to grow on under cover in the polytunnel and the few remaining were duly planted out in the open ground once danger of frost had passed.

Yacon plant May.

Tubers seem a bit sluggish starting into growth and really want a nice warm Spring to get them off to a good start. Plants do eventually grow into large plants with dense foliage and with this in mind plant spacing should be 80-100 cm apart in all directions. While for a few months in early Summer they tend to look lost, this space will be filled if growing conditions are favourable.

Summer care.

Yacon plant July.

Once the yacón has been planted out and the weather warmed up there is nothing much to do to these plants apart from an occasional watering during dry spells. If any plants are situated clase to pathways a few stakes may be required to keep tall stems upright but generally they do appear to support themselves.

Autumn care.

Yacon plant September.

By September, the yacón should be fine foliage plants worthy of any garden border and if the summer has been good with lots of sun there should be clusters of small yellow flowers at the tops of all the larger stems. Flowering is not essential for tuber production but does indicate that plants have reached a level of maturity. The flowers themselves are not terribly exciting but the foliage is lush and tropical looking.

Yacon plant in flower.

With Autumn and cold frosty nights approaching, now is a good time to prepare some protection from any sudden frost as tubers will still be developing and it is vital to keep the plants growing for as long as possible.

Right column. Harvest and usage.

Yacón harvest and use.

The harvest.

Yacon tubers.

Harvesting should be carried out as soon as the tops have been nipped by frost and before severe cold sets in. Stems are cut away above ground level to expose the crown which can then be dug up with a fork. Easier said than done as the roots go down a good distance and I found that with my heavy clay soil no matter how careful I was, many of the tubers suffered damage. Broken tubers are still usable but there is wastage when the damaged portions are cleaned up.

Pot grown Yacon ready for harvest.

Growing in pots.

The yacón grew well in a large pot and produced a fine harvest of good sized tubers which were all collected without damage. Anyone considering growing yacón on heavy soil should consider planting them in pots or tubs half submerged in the ground as this does enable easier retrieval of the tubers without damage.

Pot grown Yacon showing tubers. Tubers from one pot grown Yacon.

Storage of tubers.

Tubers for eating keep well in a cool place in a plastic bucket with a lid. The crowns and growth buds must be kept on the dry side and in a frost free place until Spring when they can be divided and replanted. In this manner, their care is similar to Dahlias.

Eating the produce.