January Gardening Newsletter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

Growing Oca, Yacon

I wish you all a wonderful new year.  Hopefully we’ll get a much better year than 2015.  While most European countries suffered from heatwaves there was only one day in 2015 when I was in a T-shirt in Co. Leitrim.

In 2015 I did a couple of small variety trials – Sweet potatoes and Oca.

Sweet potatoes

I was so excited about my sweet potatoes and they seemed to grow amazingly well climbing to great heights in my greenhouse and in the community garden greenhouse in Bundoran.  Unfortunately I was disappointed with the yield.  When I dug them out in late October the tubers were small and very knobbly – certainly not similar to the shop bought sweet potatoes I’m familiar with.  I trialled 7 varieties and the best of them was ‘Beauregard’.  I’m not giving up though – like all gardeners I’m blaming the weather so hopefully next year I’ll get a bumper crop.


I had quite a different experience with oca.  Oca must be the single best new food crop suitable to Irish growing conditions.  I had it growing outside in Bundoran and they were absolutely fabulous.  I had received 8 new varieties from a friend of mine and oca fanatic from France.  I planted 3 small tubers of each variety as well as my own un-named variety and harvested them in early December when the leaves had been cut down by the frost.  I admired them throughout the growing season – each one had a different growth habit and colour – but I admired them even more when I harvested the tubers.  I couldn’t get over the yield of some of the varieties.  Even my friend in France was astounded.

One variety – Amarillo Europe yielded 4.6kg from just 3 tubers.




Ocas are the second most widely grown root crop for millions of traditional highlanders in the Andes.   While the potato has spread and become one of the world’s most important food crop, oca, despite being good tasting, nutritious and high yielding, is still little grown outside the region.  Most importantly it never gets blight as it is not in the potato family.  I have grown oca here in Ireland for the last 12 years and never had any problems with pests and diseases.   Researchers believe it is one of the 21st centuries most promising new crops as it has the potential to be grown in a wide range of climate zones:  Himalaya, northern China, Africa, Central America, New Zealand, Japan and Europe.

Oca thrives at altitudes too high for most other crops and yields well in poor soils. It is are also very successfully grown in Ireland at sea level. A light rich soil with a pH between 5.7 and 7.5 is favoured.

The tubers begin to form only  after the days are shorter than 9 hours.  A long autumn season is important for good yields. It would be very beneficial to protect the plants from frost for as long as possible.

Growing ocas

Ocas are grown just like potatoes.  Tubers can be planted out in mid April.  They can be planted out after the last frost.  In some years I plant the tubers in 10cm pots in April and leave them in tunnel, then harden them off in May and plant out at the end of the month.  The tubers are spaced 30cm apart from each other.  The stalks can be earthed up just like with potatoes but a little less vigorous.

Harvesting and storing

Ocas should be harvested as late as possible.  I usually wait until the first frost has killed off the leaves as they grow right up to the end of the season and then still wait for another couple of weeks. Ocas may be stored for several months in boxes of sand in a cool frost-free shed.

We possibly have a small amount of various oca tubers available in our seed shop from late February onwards.



I also had an excellent crop of yacon tubers this year.  Just as with oca – they grow healthy with no pests and diseases and also yield well and taste delicious.


New seed varieties for 2016

We have a few new exciting seed varieties available this year.  Have a look in our seed shop on our website: https://www.greenvegetableseeds.com/shop/

Brussels sprouts – Diablo F1

Just like Brigitte F1 a really reliable Brussels sprout variety and remember sprouts are not just for Christmas.  Brussels sprouts have many health promoting antioxidants that are important in fighting illness.

Squash – Vegetable Spaghetti

This is one of the easiest squashes to grow. It has stringy flesh that separates into ‘spaghetti’ type pieces when cooked. You can even serve your spaghetti Bolognese in the squash half itself.

Wild Bird Seed Mix

A mixture of over 10 plants, which produce an abundance of delicious feed for a whole range of birds.  Barley, triticale, linseed, white millet, red millet, quinoa, radish, sunflower, teasel, poppies, great mullein and buckwheat – all packed in a decorative tin box.


Courses at Milkwood Farm

We have two courses planned at Milkwood in Co. Leitrim.

5th March 2016:  Beginner’s Hands on Gardening Course

2nd April 2016: Growing in Polytunnels and Greenhouses

The courses are limited to 15 people so early booking is recommended milkwood.farm@hotmail.com


There may also be some spaces left for the Renvyle House Gardening weekend on the 19th – 21st February.


Book recommendation – Michael Viney

My favourite Christmas present this year was Michael Viney’s new book ‘Reflections on Another Life’.  I’m reading this book so slowly to savour every line.  It should be a textbook for every school in Ireland.  If you read this book you’ll feel part of the landscape, the ocean and feel alive.

No doubt I will quote Michael’s wisdom in the next newsletters.


I wish you all a wonderful and healthy new year.