NZ Gardener - Garden Diary 2018 - - Growing Tips -

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.

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