Growing oca or New Zealand yam

If you’re growing vegetables and you haven’t tried oca (also known as New Zealand yams), you’re missing out. They’re easy to grow, easy to cook and super tasty!

Sandra kneeling by the oca bed holding a bunch of freshly harvested oca

When we took on the Quest For Veg plot, one of our goals was to grow unusual produce. So when we spotted oca in the Thompson and Morgan catalogue last year, we didn’t hesitate – even though we knew nothing about how to grow them, how to cook them or what they would taste like.

We ordered ten tubers. They arrived in a small box looking like tiny, waxy, chitted potatoes.

ten small oca tubers in a clear plastic bag

We got straight on to YouTube to find out what to do with them!

From what we could gather, you pot the tubers up, plant them out after the danger of frost has passed and leave them until several weeks after autumn frosts kill all the foliage. That’s the important part – the plant grows during the long summer days but tuber growth happens when there is less daylight.

Other than that, they don’t need much attention. The occasional feed. Mulching with well rotted compost apparently helps tuber growth but we didn’t do that.

They really are very low maintenance – we even found that the area where they were growing didn’t seem to need as much weeding.

They also grow very near the surface so you don’t even need to do a lot of digging.

Pink oca tubers just dug up

The only downside is that they tie up a growing area for 5-6 months. But other than that, they’re practically perfect!

How we grew our ocas

We received our tubers in May and potted them up around about the 20th.

Andrews had holding an oca tuber which has started to sprout

Ten days later, they had the first leaves showing.

the first few leaves of an oca tuber sprouting through the soil

By the end of June, we’d planted them out on the plot about 90cm (36 inches) apart.

month old oca plants on the allotment

By the end of July, they’d filled out the space a bit more.

Two month old oca plants filling out their allotted space

By the second week in November, they were still growing well and had even started flowering.

Yellow Oca flowers

We may have been able to harvest them in December when the frosts came. However, illness and foul weather prevented us visiting the plot and we didn’t actually get round to it until the beginning of this month (January 2018).

When we got to them, we found the tops had died off and could see some tubers just at the soil surface.

Oca plants with dead foliage and tubers ready for picking on the soil surface

We were worried that having neglected them, our harvest might have suffered but this didn’t seem to be the case. The slugs and snails didn’t seem keen – we had very little tuber damage. Even the resident fox, having devastated our leeks, showed no interest in the oca patch.

So how do you eat them?

From what I gather, you can either eat them raw or cook them as you would potatoes.

I tried a small slice raw. It had a very crisp, crunchy texture and slightly lemony taste. While that was perfectly pleasant, I decided to roast our first batch – what doesn’t taste better roasted?

Some tubers were quite small so I cut the larger ones so they were of a similar size and would cook evenly.

I drizzled over a little vegetable oil, sprinkled over salt and pepper, then popped them in the oven at 200C for about 20 mins. And the results were amazing – we loved them.

Imagine potatoes with a hint of lemon and you’ll get the idea.

Chopped and roasted oca

We have also tried them boiled and, if anything, the citrus flavour was even stronger. I can’t wait to try other ways of cooking them and will see what recipes can be adapted to accommodate them. This is going to be fun.

The only real decision is how many to plant this year!

Do you have any tips on growing or cooking oca? If so, please let us know.

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