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Latin America kitchen-garden

Peruvian oca (Oxalis tuberosa)
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Isabelle Paquin)
Peruvian oca (Oxalis tuberosa)
  • Peruvian oca (Oxalis tuberosa)
  • Jícama or yam bean (Pachyrhizus erosus)
  • Pepino (Solanum muricatum)
  • Yacón or Peruvian ground apple (Smallanthus sonchifolius)
  • Dwarf tamarillo (Cyphomandra abutiloides)
  • Sowing of pipicha
  • Sowing of papalo
  • Quinoa

Ideal growing conditions


Most seeds don’t require light to germinate. On the other hand, once germination begins, 12 to 18 hours of light a day are recommended. The quality of the lighting is also very important. The conventional lightbulbs and halogens we use at home are far from adequate, because they have a withering effect. For 10 dollars or so you can purchase a T5 fluorescent tube that will let you grow sturdy plants.


Seeds generally prefer a stable temperature between 22 and 26°C during germination. So no drafts! A small 50 x 23 cm heat mat ($30) will maximize germination and make it easier to manage watering. And watch out for cold water: choose lukewarm water instead.


A seed doesn’t have roots yet to draw water, so before germination, simply watering the surface is what’s called for. It can sometimes be necessary to do that a few times a day. So that you don’t have to waste time hanging around your seeds, place a transparent-plastic dome over them, which will conserve humidity and warmth. Keep in mind that once a seed has started to germinate it must never go without water. And when germination begins, you can water more deeply to feed the roots, and remove the dome.

Information on growing: sowing dates are valid for the Montréal area.
For other regions: rely on indications with regard to weeks or temperatures.
The last-frost risks in Montréal are over after the full moon in May, around the 31st of the month.

Root vegetables

Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

  • You’ll have to get seedlings or tubers to start.
  • Plant in the garden after the final frost, 90 centimeters apart.
  • Then, in the fall, after the first cold hits and the foliage begins to wilt, repot the plants and place them in a cool, sunny spot (5-8°C).
  • Let them dry, and water lightly as needed during the winter to prevent the tubers drying out.
  • Put them back in the warmth in early March so that they can germinate once again. The same procedure for oca and mashua, which you’ll need tubers for, but which are harder to find.

Jícama (Pachyrhizus erosus)

  • Soak the seeds for 24 hours, then sow 2-3 seeds per pot the week of March 8 (13 weeks before the last frost). It’s important to sow directly in the final pots, because jicama, like all legumes, doesn’t take well to transplanting.
  • In order to disturb the roots as little as possible when planting in the garden takes place, use peat, coconut or cardboard pots.
  • Place the pots on a heat mat under the lights. Plant after the last frost at the beginning of June, 30 centimeters apart. No compost or fertilizer!

Fruiting vegetables

A general rule for fruiting vegetables in the nightshade family: seed them indoors and then transplant in the garden after the last frost. They need warmth, compost and light. Full sun is recommended, meaning more than 8 hours a day.

Pepino or melon pear (Solanum muricatum)

  • Ideally the sweet cucumber is propagated by cuttings indoors in late winter. You can get seedlings, or sow it in February (17 weeks before the last frost). It’s transplanted in the garden 60 centimeter apart. It also grows very well in pots. The mature fruit is yellowish and slightly soft.
  • In the autumn, when temperatures drop below 18°C, take a mother plant indoors where it’s warmer, and expose to the sun over the winter in order to replant or to take cuttings from it for the following year.

Dwarf tamarillo (Cyphomandra abutiloides)

  • Sow indoors in late February or early March (14 weeks before the final frost).
  • It’s transplanted to the garden, one meter apart, since it grows quickly and reaches two meters in the course of the summer.
  • The mature fruit is orange-colored and easily picked around August.
  • Better to harvest them, because they reseed.

Litchi tomato or morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbriifolium)

  • Seed indoors the first week of April (nine weeks before the last frost).
  • It’s transplanted to the garden one meter apart. Or it looks great in both smaller or bigger pots.
  • Mature fruit is red.
  • Again, better to pick them, because these also reseed.


Pipicha (Porophyllum linaria) and Bolivian coriander or papalo (Porophyllum ruderale)

  • Sow in late March, indoors (10 weeks before the last frost).
  • Transplant to the garden after the last frost, 50 to 60 centimeters apart. Requires little maintenance.
  • You can easily harvest the seeds from these Asteraceae in late summer to seed them again the next year.


Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)

  • Sow indoors late April (i.e., three weeks before planting).
  • Planting mid-May, once the soil has dried out, 40 centimeters apart. This plant tolerates low temperatures of around 12 °C. You can also seed directly in the garden, but better towards the end of May to get more uniform germination.
  • When the panicles (large much-branched inflorescences) are well loaded, you’ll need to stake them to prevent birds from gorging themselves for a longer period on these magnificent colored grains.

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