Cassava (also called tapioca, manioc, and yucca) is a tropical plant that is easy to grow at home. The plant is cultivated for its large root which is rich in carbs, calcium and iron. The root is gluten-free and used in place of flour for baking and cooking. Cassava is prized for its use in making tasty desserts and bubble tea, or simply as a staple food, as is the case in many parts of the world. Read on to learn about growing cassava at home.
Varieties of Cassava
There are two main varieties of cassava – Sweet and Bitter. All types of cassava contain cyanide compounds which can be toxic if ingested in large amounts. But that cyanide is easily neutralized by cooking them. Some people also grow cassava as an ornamental plant and there are ornamental or variegated cassava types as well.
- Sweet Cassava – Sweet cassava have less amounts of cyanide in them. It doesn’t mean the sugar content in sweet cassava is high. Less processing is required to remove the cyanide content as well.
- Bitter Cassava – Bitter cassava have higher cyanide content in them, and the increased bitterness is a sign of this. They are not grown as much as the sweet variety due to this fact, as well as requiring more processing in order to remove the cyanide.
Hailing from tropical regions, luckily cassava can be grown outdoors in USDA growing zones 8-11. Lower zones will need to grow the plant indoors though. The plant is hardy and has very few pests, and also quite drought resistant.
Select a planting location that will provide the cassava plant with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Also, the plant will need 7-8 months to reach maturity, so select a planting location that is “out of the way”, and that you won’t need to maintain for most of the year.
The plant needs loose, loamy soil so it can grow its large roots properly. The root is the edible part of the plant, so the more loose the soil is, the larger the root can grow. These roots can weigh several pounds.
Amend your outdoor garden soil with plenty of compost to keep it loose and fertile for the cassava root. When growing the plant in a container, use good quality potting soil that contains compost. The soil pH should ideally be between 5.5 to 6.5 pH.
Cassava plants are started from stem cuttings. Order the stems from an online dealer. Cut a 12-inch section from the stem bottom and stick it halfway into the prepared garden soil or container. Make sure you place the bottom end into the soil. Cut another 12-inch section from the stem and place half of it into the prepared soil being sure to keep the stem upright. Continue doing this with all the stems. Ensure the stem cuttings have at least between 4 to 7 nodes on the stem itself. Plant cassava at least 3 feet apart in rows, with about 3- 6 feet between each row.
Gently firm up the soil and water well. Keep soil moist. New growth should appear on the stem in 12-14 days. Within about 12 months, you should be ready to harvest your first crop of tapioca.
Cassava Plant Care
Water at the soil level regularly. Don’t allow the soil to dry out. Although cassava is fairly drought resistant, watering them regularly helps them to develop better roots. Feed the cassava plant with water-soluble plant food once a month to fatten up the roots.
Companion Plants for Cassava
Pests and Common Issues
Cassava does not normally suffer from pests. Aphids and mites can attack the plant though. With proper care, these pests will be manageable. Both aphids and mite infestations can be treated with a homemade pesticide or neem oil. Fungal infections like anthracnose can also pop up, causing leaf spots and cankers. Remove affected plants and/or parts if possible. Avoid over watering your cassava plant to avoid root rot.
Harvest cassava roots after seven months, but before the end of eight months from planting time. Harvest too early and the root will not be starchy enough; wait too long and the cassava root will be fibrous. Once harvested, the roots have a shelf life of only a few days, so care must be taken not to damage them during harvesting and to process them as quickly as possible.
During harvesting, it is fine to chop the whole plant down to the roots and to take any chopped stems and replant them (they will grow again).
The leaves of the cassava plant are also edible and contain 100 times more protein than the roots, but are safe to eat only after they have been boiled; raw cassava contains naturally occurring cyanide, which is of course, toxic. Prepared as a salad or soup, cassava leaves are eaten in many dishes in tropical regions of the world.
It’s important to bear in mind that tapioca is a staple food for millions of people worldwide, and when prepared properly, there is next to no risk of any cyanide toxicity. Peeling the root, soaking it for 48 to 60 hours before cooking it, significantly reduces the effect of those cyanide-producing compounds that are found in it. Be sure to discard all the water that was used to prepare it.
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