Sunday, 24 January 2016

Oh Heck, it Ain't Mecha-meck!

During my blog's fallow phase, a few brave souls have continued to leave comments. I've just been moderating and publishing them. Turns out there were some interesting ones, but what really caught my attention was a message from Ron Kushner. Ron is an authority on all things Ipomoea -  I am a mere dilettante.  So when he politely lets me know that the seeds I received in good faith as I. pandurata, with their fabulously weirdy-beardy appearance, are in fact I. macrorhiza, I listen.

Just like the chuckle-inducing Corrections and Clarifications section in the Grauniad (sic), I am going to have to make a retraction. When I said "oh heck, here's mecha-meck", I was wrong. What I should have said is "oh heck, it's from Yucatan". 

It seems that I. macrorhiza has a distinctly southerly distribution, being found on the coast in the south eastern states of the USA. One theory is that it was transported there from Mexico by First Nations people, possibly as a food source. I. pandurata is found much further north and, by inference, ought to be a lot hardier than the southern softie that is I. macrorhiza.

The proof, as Ron has pointed out, lies in the seeds. Compare and contrast: 

Here's 'my' mecha-meck: an artisan-brewing, kimchi-gobbling hipster with splendid and extravagant whiskers:

Ipomoea macrorhiza

The true mecha-meck is more of a designer stubble aficionado:
Ipomoea panudurata (image courtesy of University of Missouri)

I suppose this late onset revelation is actually a bit of a relief; the impostor's growth and winter survival was, let's face it, a big disappointment. Without reworking the tired Spartacus allusion yet again, I'd rather the true mecha-meck reveal itself and we can all get on with our lives. 

On that note, in true one-step-forwards-two steps-back fashion, I must now throw myself on the tender mercies of East Coast USA rhizophiles.  Say, can anyone provide me with seeds of the true mecha-meck? 





Monday, 18 January 2016

Now We Are Seven

There's plenty of talk about work/life balance these days. No one mentions work/life/blog balance, however. It seems like Radix has fallen victim to an egregious lopsidedness of the latter. Work commitments, family illness, all combined with a slothful nature and inborn lethargy, have conspired to leave my blog unupdated for one whole year. Keep this up and I could win a Darwin Award for blogging.

Just like A A Milne's poem 'Now We are Six', in which the author expresses the desire to remain at the age of six in perpetuity, it seems as though my blog is following suit. That's not to say that I haven't been continuing my root researches, albeit in an attenuated, fitful and truncated fashion. I just haven't managed the transfer from mud-encrusted notebook to blog. As I write, I'm struggling to remember how this digital interface actually works..... So I find myself on the eve of this blog's seventh birthday, attempting to reassert its existence. Not drowning, but waving.

One project that has occupied me over the last year, is the Guild of Oca Breeders, an attempt to set up a Europe-wide oca breeding collective and citizen science project. Last year, we sent out about 150 seedling varieties to people from Spain to Sweden. We're still waiting to analyse the data, but it confirms what I already knew: most people are much better growers than I am. There's a mini backlog of a few unpublished posts that I really ought to tidy up and publish, too.

So like Bobby Vee (before my time, natch) and his rubber ball, I'll come bouncing back to you. Soon, anyway. Hopefully.



Friday, 16 January 2015

Amphicarpaea - Talet Like It Is.

Happy New Year. Rather than make pronouncements on the forthcoming reformation of my character and  behaviour, my 2015 New Year's resolution is to abandon the concept of New Year's resolutions altogether and just get on with things. In that spirit, I am going to spend a few weeks rodding this blog's pipework in the hope of clearing the indigestible mass of half-finished posts that have been backing up. 

Here goes.

Back in the spring, I potted on a whole load of different talet varieties and left them to their fate. That was never my intention, of course. I meant to update regularly on their comparative vigour in the hope of identifying which of the six varieties was best suited to the Cornish climate. As per usual, life seems to have impeded my lofty plans, so here I am catching up once again.

Talking of loftiness, the plants became so top heavy that they kept falling over. It was politely pointed out to me that they constituted a tripping hazard, blocking as they did the narrowest defile in our famously narrow back yard. Come August, I finally took the hint and moved them down to the plot instead. It was also high time that they were repotted into something roomier than their budgie smuggler fit 7cm pots. Their leafiness, while providing a gratifying splash of green against the wall, had also meant that they were quick to dry out; resuscitation was needed on several occasions, with the poor things gasping and close to their permanent wilt point. Welcome to my world, where horticulture and homicide collide.

Originally I had randomly arranged the different varieties into those handy stackable blue crates; now I sorted them back into their individual varieties in order to compare each in terms of growth and nodulation. For illustrative purposes I set out the varieties in ascending order of vigour, left to right. 'Saratoga Battlefield' (SB) was the least vigorous, followed by 'Yabumame', which had a distinctly chlorotic cast about it.  The most vigorous of the six was the unimaginatively named 'Original', which I obtained (I think) from a Seed Savers Exchange member. In terms of nodulation, 'Original' seemed to be ahead of the pack, although 'FVK' (Frank van Keirsbilck) and 'GN' (Gardens North) were quite well endowed too. The latter two early varieties had already begun  producing aerial chasmogamous flowers, and also sported long and leafy axillary branches close to ground level.

Amphicarpaea varieties, August 2014
Arrayed in all their glory. August 2014. 

The repotting process gave me the perfect opportunity for a mid-season peep at what was going on below the surface of the compost. Talet, as I've previously mentioned, has the nifty ability to fix nitrogen; aside from producing damn fine beans, this is one of my prime motivations for growing the plant.

Amphicarpaea bracteata Gardens North Subterranean bean and nodules, August 2014
GN. Shows a small subterranean bean developing and a fair few nodules. Oh, and an earthworm.

Amphicarpaea bracteata FVK subterranean bean and nodules. August 2014
FVK: baby bean and some nodules.

Amphicarpaea bracteata Original, profuse nodulation. August 2014
Original: massive nodules, subterranean shoots ramifying nicely. Not a bean in sight.
As I searched the yabumame root mass for nodules, it was clear these were missing, or too small to be visible with the naked eye. This might explain their stunted growth and yellowish leaves - symptoms of nitrogen deficiency. Yabumame is known to associate with its own particular strains of Bradyrhizobium bacteria in Japan, which might well have not made the trip here with the aerial seeds I received - maybe in this case absence of evidence really was evidence of absence.

I potted on the plants into 1 litre pots and tried to keep them watered, despite the protracted warm and rainless spell, which led our stream to dry up. The early flowering varieties were the first to die back, while 'Original' continued to look green and healthy for weeks longer and grew much larger than any of the other types had managed in their noticeably shorter lives. 'Saratoga Battlefield' limped on in a strange, enfeebled state, a vegetable creaking gate hanging long on its hinges; yabumame retained its jaundiced look before eventually succumbing.

Finally, in November,  even 'Original' senesced and after a few weeks' hiatus, I decided to tip out the pots and assess the yields.


Differential sensecence in Amphicarpaea bracteata August 2014
State of play. November 2014
So these are the results, with individual the contents of each pot heaped together. When hunger stalks the land, don't come to me begging for Amphicarpaea beans.


Amphicarpaea edgeworthii, total yield November 2014
Yabumame.The total yield from five pots. Back to the drawing board on this one, I think.



Amphicarpaea bracteata, GN. total yield November 2014
GN. I've seen worse. Five pots.

Amphicarpaea bracteata, FVK  total yield November 2014
FVK. Six pots.


Amphicarpaea bracteata, Original,  total yield November 2014
And finally, the clear winner, Original. Six pots.
The two pots of Saratoga Battlefield failed to produce a single bean between them. Bah!

All in all, 'Original' was by far the most productive variety, with the others lagging way behind. But I'm not entirely satisfied with my experimental method. In fact, I'm intending to run the 'experiment' again this coming season; when you hear scientists say "more research needed", this is what I think they mean. Bigger pots, more water - I owe it to them to try again.

So, those are the results - but what of their interpretation?

It could be that I potted on the early varieties way too late; they may have already been too far down the seed development process to take advantage of  extra root room, nutrients and improved water availability offered by their new homes. I seem to remember noticing something similar years ago when I potted on a previous bunch of sorely neglected talet seedlings. Legumes are known to be quite thirsty when flowering and it's possible that seed development was affected by water stress at a critical stage. Perhaps 'Original', as a result of its later flowering, took advantage of the increased space, water and nutrients to grow much bigger before seed formation was initiated; it might then have directed the more abundant products of photosynthesis downwards to create fat subterranean beans.

At least I've established that if you plant one fat Amphicarpaea bean, you might get nine back - if you use the right variety and treat the plants with a modicum of respect, horticulturally speaking. I've wanted to know this indispensable piece of information for years. It isn't isn't too bad a deal, bearing in mind that talet is, as far as I'm aware, an unimproved wild plant. The next challenge is to quadruple that yield - a forty fold increase between sowing and harvest would be something like an acceptable level for a crop plant.

The variety NS (Nova Scotia) grown from aerial seeds obtained from Edward MacDonnell produced a few small beans. I'll add it to this coming season's trial. I also have seeds of a variety from Ohio, which was kindly sent to me by James Cheshire. And seeing as I still have aerial seeds of SB left over, I guess I'll give it another chance. Come to think about it, I'm sure I have some other varieties knocking around, in the form of those indurate aerial seeds. May as well liberate them too.
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