Planting – Maca planting occurs every year between November-December (1). Seeds are manually dispersed across a ploughed field of mineral rich soil infused with guano (bird excrement). The seeds take 2-3 weeks to germinate and a further 8-9 months to mature. After germination, the seedlings are evenly re-spaced (2) with an approximate circumference of 10cm between bulbs to ensure each plant has a sufficient supply of mineral rich soil. Competition for soil minerals prevents bulbs too closely spaced from reaching their growth potential. Maca bulbs come in 3 main colours – yellow, red and black. All colours stem from the same seeds, however the resulting ratios differ, with 60-70% of germinated seeds becoming yellow maca, 20-25% red and 10-15% black.
Harvesting – Once fully matured, the maca is harvested in July-August (3). Harvesting is done manually with the slow and careful turning over of superficial soil, followed by hand-picking exposed maca roots. Optimum roots for processing are chosen and separated. At the same time, approximately 10% of the best quality bulbs are set aside to re-plant for seeding to produce the crop for the following year (4). Once collected, the fresh maca for processing is placed in large netted bags and agitated to remove excess soil and contaminants before being prepared for drying. Maca can leave the soil so mineral deficient that it can take up to 10 years to regenerate before planting can re-occur. As such, many farms have 10-year crop rotation cycles in place to ensure the soil provides optimum mineral content for growth.