Tuesday 7 February 2017

The Guild Of Oca Breeders

If you read this blog then you'll know that I love experimenting with new crops. Every year I grow something new or different to try. 

For a few years now I've been growing Oca or New Zealand Yam and I've fallen in love with them a little bit. They taste great, don't suffer from disease, but have unpredictable yields. 

I think the best way I can sum up why I love them is their potential as a future food crop. 

I'm a sucker for carbohydrates and largely live on potatoes and wheat (bread, pasta), oats (breakfast) with a bit of rice thrown in! But in my quest for self sufficiency/reliance I'm always looking for new sources of carbohydrates that I could grow. 
Some yams sprouting ready to plant (this picture is from 2016)
One of the keys to self sufficiency is to grow a wide range of crops that could support you. Having a wide range of crops gives you a safety net, if one crop fails you have many more to feed you. 

As it stands the Oca isn't it, if you were banking on these tubers producing then there is a lot of years you'd end up going hungry. 

This is because they only start to produce tubers when the day length reaches 12 hours or less, and in the UK that means that the weather can have serious implications to yields and early killing frost, like we had this year, means the difference between two builders buckets full (2015 harvest) compared to just a handful (2016 harvest).

After my disappointing harvest last year I got looking on the internet to see what could be done to increase my yields, when I stumbled upon the Guild of Oca Breeders. This is a plant breeding club that is trying to develop a crop that isn't so day length sensitive and will perform much better in the northern hemisphere.

They are doing this by a process called recurrent mass selection, growing thousands of genetically diverse seedlings where the best are then selected and regrown for further testing. 

The exciting thing about this is that the potato was also adapted in a similar way. 

Another great thing is that all the genetic material is kept in the public domain under the Open Source Seed Initiative (something very important to me).

There are different levels of membership,  I've signed up as an "experimenter" So I'm setting aside a few garden beds to grow this crop and I'll be expected to perform certain tests (destructive harvests where the same named varieties are dug up at different times to compare yields). There are other levels of membership where you can sign up as a supporter and receive a selection of named varieties to grow in your garden or levels for more experienced gardeners involving cross pollination or raising seedlings. 

I'm excited about trying to developed a crop in my garden that could one day have an impact on what we eat. I'm also excited about using the collective knowledge of the guild to improve my growing, I love using opportunities like this to further my skills as a gardener.

If you're interested then click here to see what The Guild Of Oca Breeders is all about.

Who else grows Oca? 

And who else has had really variable yields?


  1. I tried it one year and it failed,

    1. It's is a hit and miss crop inteh country at the moment. But hopefully good breeding will make it a lot more worthwhile!

  2. This sounds wonderful!
    I also wonder if the use of agricultural fabric, such as Agribon (my favorite here in the States) wouldn't help with the late season growing to help prevent frost.
    Good luck in your endeavors

    1. PS Another option would be growing in large tubs that could be brought in if frost/conditions call for it??

    2. We're looking at trying to get it to be a crop that can be grown on a commerical scale (although the large tubs might be a good option so I always have some tubers for replanting encase I loose a whole crop). the flease would help but with an early hard frost it still wouldn't be enough.

  3. I became interested in this crop after reading one of your past posts on it. We had poor results last year with potato and Jerusalem artichokes, and like you, we want to grow more carb crops. Thanks for the link.


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