Ulluco Tubers

Growing Ulloco - Papalisa

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Ulluco or Ullucus hails from the Andes mountain region in South America. It is a perrenial tuber similar in appearance to potatoes, but smaller and more colorful. So far as taste is concerned it is like a cross between potatoes and beets. Ulloco remains firm and crisp even when boiled.

Ulloco Tubers

Relatively unknown outside of its native habitat where it is commonly called 'Papalisa', the Ulluco is a highly nutritious and easily grown root crop. Similar Andean tubers include oca, yacon and mashua. Both the tuberous roots as well as the foliage are eaten. The leaves are similar to spinach and are used in the same way you would use Malabar Spinach . There are a multitude of varieties ranging in color from green, purples and reds to yellows and whites. Some of the yellow varieties seem to be the most productive.

The plants are fairly compact, reaching about a foot in height, they are also self fertile but this is irrelevant as they rarely produce fertile seed. Tuber production is unaffected by this.

USDA hardiness zones 8-11 are suitable for growing Ulloco tubers. They are grown in the same fashion as potatoes, from starts, other tubers. Growing from seed is possible but not recommended. One of their drawbacks is that they have a fairly long growing season, about 6 months, planted in spring they will be ready for Harvest in early winter.

Their long growing season makes it advantageous to begin them indoors in a fertile and moist soil, as they sprout they are easily transplanted.

The best way to get started outdoors is to bury a few in moist compost enriched soil, naturally you'll want to wait till after the first frost. They will tolerate a light frost but will not always survive over winter in colder regions such as Canada or the Northern states. Cold frames, cloches, horticultural fleece aren't a bad idea. You can also lift your crop and store it over winter saving the best tubers to replant.

Plant seed tubers in full sun, 3 - 4 inches deep, spaced roughly 1 foot apart. Water, and lots of it is a must to produce the best tubers. I didn't say to drown them, just water them generously and frequently. A little mulch goes a long way so far as moisture retention is concerned. They are considered 'drought tolerant' However when subjected to water stress the tubers are grainy mealy and at times unpalatable.

Rich fertile soil with a fairly neutral pH [6.0 to 6.5] is best for highest production. They are fairly hardy in this respect and will still grow in less than optimal soil - but tuber production is diminished.

A major difference between growing Ulloco and growing potatoes is that the Ulloco is a perrenial, whereas the potato is an annual. A potato you can simply pull the entire plant to harvest the spuds. With the Ulloco, assuming you want the plant to produce again next year, you have to dig around the plant and harvest the tubers. Some growers still pull out the entire plant and replant it - but you can count on some of the plants not surviving if you harvest in this manner.

Slugs are a common problem with Ulloco. Other pests known to feed on Ulloco are Flea Beetles in the early spring. Aphids , Wire Worms and at time cut worms.

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