A first experience of Oca

As part of my new life growing produce in a new garden I am coming into contact with a real range of new fruit and vegetables from around the world. This presents me with the opportunity to share my new-found knowledge and spread the word when it comes to some of these exciting new finds.

In focus this week is the South American crop known as Oca, or Oxalis tuberosa to give it its full title. Oca is a tuber that is grown as a root vegetable and apparently one of the most staple crops in the Andes regions such as Peru and Bolivia.

Oca ‘Orange’

It looks exotic to the eye and comes in a range of colours, from its traditional red through yellow, orange and pink. The three types I was part of harvesting showed such a variety when it comes to colour, with Oca ‘Scarlet with white eyes’ and Oca ‘Orange’ indicating their colour by name, while Oca ‘Dylan Keating’ was more of a light yellow colour with red markings.

Oca is small in size and is used in the same way as a potato. They don’t need to be peeled and can be baked or roasted, while Oca can be eaten raw – as I tried it – and it had something of a slightly nutty water chestnut taste to it.

It was simple to harvest as the roots and tubers lifted easily out of the ground. The tubers were growing near the surface of the soil and it was a case of raking through with my hand and picking out the tubers. I think this little South American root vegetable looks fantastic and look forward to hopefully growing it this year.

As my first experience with Oca has been harvesting it, I have had to research about planting and growing it – something I intend to get first-hand experience with in the coming season.

Oca ‘Scarlet with white eyes’

It is recommended to plant the small Oca tubers individually in pots of multi-purpose compost in a greenhouse or polytunnel in February and then plant out the small plants when the risk of frosts has past, around late May. The alternative is to wait until May before sowing directly outdoors. Plants can be ‘earthed up’ like potatoes to give further growing room.

Spacing of about 30cm should be allowed between each plant and it has no real maintenance requirements, except to keep it watered in very dry weather. It should be noted that Oca is blight-resistant and also has good resistance to bother disease and pests.

The tubers only start growing late on and when the days start to shorten, so the longer you leave the tubers in the soil the better. You then harvest the Oca a few weeks after the frosts have killed the plant, usually doing this from December into early January.

You can store tubers in a cool place, they don’t need covering from the light, and they will sprout after a couple of months ready to be replanted and grown for next year’s crop. Oca seems really simple to grow, they are very prolific and are a really novel and attractive crop.

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