How I grew Ube in my backyard in the East Bay of San Francisco. I tell you where I bought my Ube starter tuber and the process of how I planted it, grew it and harvested it. It truly was a labour of love.
Why I grew my own real Ube
One of my goals the past few years was to see if I could grow Ube in California. Did you know that even though you see Ube desserts all over, that Ube planting and harvesting in the Philippines is the lowest it has ever been. This is because of climate change and many people outside of the Philippines relying on fake Ube flavoring or using purple potatoes to pass it off as the real thing.
This does a disservice to the farmers trying to get support from the government to provide growing assistance. The yam and its different varieties are actually dying. To help save it, we can try to grow our own crops here in the US or really keep asking them to export real Ube for us to use. That is why it is so important to use and talk about real Ube. It helps keep it alive. Don't rely on the bottle of flavoring. If you are a business, a blogger or recipe developer always seek to us the real thing in your recipes if possible.
A good reference to watch is this video from Featr aptly named Is Ube being stolen from the Philippines. It gives perspective.
Weather and climate is very important
I live in the East Bay of San Francisco, which has a very different climate than San Francisco proper. During the spring and summer it is much hotter, with the weather almost similar to Southern California. In the winters, especially lately we have had some rain.
Because of this type of weather, I thought I would try growing real Ube in my backyard. My first try was a bust. I used a sprout I obtained from Etsy and planted it. It didn't grow much as we had a super hot summer and then a super wet winter.
The second time I decided to use a real tuber and boy did it work. I will take you through how I grew real Ube in my backyard in San Francisco.
How to prepare Ube for planting
First I ordered a tuber from Gesedas Garden on Etsy in April as around that time it starts to get warmer where I am.
Once you get the tuber you are supposed to cut it into 3 equal parts and then dry them in the sun for a few days. This is to prevent them from rotting in the ground. If you are a real deal gardener you can also rub the exposed cut parts with ash to help keep them healthy during the sprouting process. Gosh see how vibrant the color is with some streaks of white.
How to plant it
I planted the ube in a planter box. After my first real harvest, my advice is to not do that. They are very hard to dig up because they truly root into the ground. Also the skin is very thin and they are prone to getting scratched while you are carefully digging them out.
It's better to plant them in a big planter grow bag, but don't burry them in the ground. Keep them above ground. You can just rip them apart when it is time to harvest and release the soil around them. It makes the process so much easier.
What type of soil do you need to plant real ube?
Ube needs deep loose soil mixed with compost to grow. The pot that you use also needs to have really good drainage. Before planting line the bottom of your grow bag with stones this will help drain the water out. Then top with a layer of loose soil and plant the tuber in. Top the rest the of the pot with more soil.
How often should you water the planting?
Water it lightly everyday and keep out in the sun. While the vines are growing, hard harsh direct sun light can burn the leaves. You can shade them in the beginning with an umbrella and once they have matured over a couple of weeks they will thrive in the sun.
How long do they take to sprout?
I planted my Ube pieces in April and I saw sprouts come out of the ground in June, so about 2 months.
Within a month they transformed from sprouts to official vines. From the time you see the first sprouts all you need to do is make sure the vines have room to grow. Many plant the tubers next to a trellis so that the fines can grow and grow. I didn't have that luxury so I just looped the vines within each other.
How much do Ube vines grow?
Typically ube vines indicate how well the ube is growing underground. The more the vibrant and lush the vines the bigger your crop is down below. They can get up to 10 to 20 feet tall.
Can you eat Ube vines?
No you cannot unfortunately. They are considered toxic to be eaten both raw and cooked. They are purely ornamental and used to gauge the growth of ube in the ground. Do not eat them.
How long is the growing season?
Typically it takes about 9 to 18 months to grow ube. It all depends on the weather that you have. If the vines are still green and growing, it is advisable to not harvest them yet. Both the vines and the ube can grow indefinitely if you let it.
Because I live in San Francisco East Bay Area, I do have to be mindful of the weather patterns. I planted in April and the vines were really doing really well during the summer when it was quite dry.
That is until it started raining constantly. Around December we started to experience many rainy days in a row and the leaves started to get brown spots and eventually by January all the vines died down. This means it is time to dig the real ube up!
Digging Them Up
The hardest thing about growing Ube was actually digging them up without damaging the skin or breaking them. Again, it was because of where I planted them. As I mentioned earlier planting them in their own grow bag will make harvesting easier.
We treated it like we were digging up dinosaur bones acting like anthropologists. We were digging around the tubers very carefully and using our fingers to find out which way they grew and how wide. It took us 1 hour to dig out the first one! You can see how much roots they grow. Which makes it even harder to get them out of the ground.
Real Ube Harvest
Most of our harvest was super thin and probably needed a few more months of growth. Because of the constant rain, they were basically sitting in mud and they did not like that. As you can see most of the harvested ube was broken because it is actually very delicate. They easily break. Sadly I had to throw away almost half of the harvest as they were rotten from the wet soil.
From just the 3 pieces of cut up ube I managed to grow about 12 full tubers. Not bad! You can see the skin is quite smooth when they are just dug up from the ground and washed. Over time the skin starts to wrinkle and get the bark like texture.
What real Ube looks like
You can see the skin get dryer and tighter and all the roots protruding out of the tuber. After a few hours they start getting their distinct bark like skin.
Here is a cross section of a fresh ube cut in half. The color vibrancy is unreal.
Here is what real ube looks like when it has been peeled.
I cannot wait to cook with my real deal ube that I grew in my backyard. If you want to try it let me know and we can be Ube growing buddies. It's best to plant them in the beginning of spring to give them time to grow.
If you have other questions I didn't answer here email me at email@example.com. I will add it in here.
Recipes to make with real ube
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