HARVEST & GROW YAMS
Yams ( Oxalis tuberosa) are as easy to grow as it gets. You dig a small hole, put one in, wait six months and dig up its offspring. What can possibly go wrong? Well, the “oxalis” in the botanical name might give you a clue. Yams, or oca as they are known in most other parts of the world (where what we know as orange kumara are instead known as yams, just to make things more confusing), are a perennial species of tuber-forming, rather than bulb-forming and weedy, oxalis.
If well-grown and harvested with care, they are a rewarding, no-fuss winter crop. It's only when lots of small tubers are left in the soil that they can outstay their welcome. The most commonly grown variety is red-skinned, but you can get yellow and apricot varieties too. They are ready for harvesting now, but if you haven't yet tried growing your own, here are some tips.
• Yams are frost-tender. Bury the seed tubers after the risk of late frosts has passed in spring, and wait till frost knocks down the leafy tops of the plants the following winter to start harvesting. The flavour of the tubers is better after a few frosts.
• Because yams are dug after their tops die down, it's a good idea to put in a stake next to each plant, so you don't miss any come harvest time.
• When harvesting, use a spade to lift and dump all the soil out onto a tarpaulin or into a wheelbarrow. Then you can sift the soil thoroughly to make sure you don't leave too many tiny tubers in the ground, as these will sprout the following year but are unlikely to amount to much more than a nuisance.
• You can grow your own yams from store-bought or home-saved tubers, or buy seed tubers of special varieties from garden centres. They come in a range of colours from gold to orange and traditional red.
• Plant yams in fertile soil in a sunny position. Space them out 30-40cm apart, burying the tubers 5cm deep, and mound up. Dig in compost prior to planting and side dress with fertiliser when the tops emerge.
• To store yams for replanting in spring, just keep them in a paper bag in a cupboard indoors.
Try Ginny Grant's quick-smart STIR-FRIED YAMS WITH FISH. Slice yams and spring onions. Finely chop garlic, ginger and red chilli. Quickly stir-fry everything in sunflower oil and when crisp-tender, add baby spinach leaves, the juice of ½ an orange, soy sauce and sesame oil. Serve with panfried fish fillets.