All about Ulluco

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 time around is the root tuber from the Andes region known as Ulluco, or Ullucus tuberosus. Previously I have talked about the fellow South American crop known as Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and you see that post here.

20180112_134636.jpgUlluco is one of the most commonly eaten crops in the Andes, primarily in the likes of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, however it is also eaten in other South American countries. Indeed it is second only to the potato when it comes to root crops in the Andean region.

It has a fantastic look and tubers can be grown in a range of varieties and bright colours, with the ones I harvested coming in bright green, purple and a variety that is white with purplish speckles. Ulluco can be eaten raw – if they are smaller tubers – however it is more common for the tubers to be cooked. They have an earthy taste, are high in antioxidants and are usually boiled or roasted.

As my first experience with Ulluco has been harvesting it, I have had to do a bit of research about planting and growing it. Ulluco needs a long growing season, up to 6-7 months, being started in Spring under cover all the way through to harvesting in November or December (it should be noted I harvested these in January).

20180112_134712.jpgTubers should be potted up around March in a greenhouse or polytunnel and kept somewhere light and warm. They can be planted outside after the risk of frost has passed in a position which will provide the Ulluco lots of full sun. Ulluco needs a lot of water and throughout the summer the plant will spread and cover the ground with leaves.

It is around September that the tubers will start forming and ideally you need to keep the plants protected from frost for as long as possible to ensure maximum tuber growth. Covering the plants with horticultural fleece in the winter months would ensure this and help extend the growing period. After frosts kill the top of the plants you should wait a few weeks before harvesting.

However, it is important to mention that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently issued a warning for people growing Ulluco. DEFRA warns that non-native viruses have been identified in Ulluco being grown in England, which has the potential to spread to potatoes and other crops, and cause damage.

The advice from DEFRA was that, if Ulluco was currently being grown or stored, preventative measures should be implemented to prevent the spread of viruses. These include:

  • Ulluco should only be harvested for personal consumption and should not be sold or transferred to other sites (and all tubers should be removed from the soil)
  • Tubers of ulluco should not be saved for planting in the following year
  • Any potatoes and species of Amaranthaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae grown close to Ulluco should only be harvested for personal consumption and any seed/tubers not saved for planting in the following year
  • Any waste from the vegetables, including peelings, should not be composted and disposed of in general waste bins to go to landfill. Also any plant material such as leaves and stems should be burned or put in landfill waste, and not composted
  • Any tools or equipment should be thoroughly cleaned after contact with Ulluco and hands should be washed after working with the plant

For the full factsheet from DEFRA about preventing the introduction and spread of Ulluco viruses see here.

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