Cassava (Manihot esculenta)

Description

Cassava, Manihot esculenta, manioc, yuca, or tapioca, is another wonderful perennial plant. It is grown for starchy roots and its edible, high in protein, leaves. It as a big woody shrub gaining heights of 15 feet, if you let it! Cassava can be used as an edible hedge or grown in developing food forests, or simply anywhere in the garden. Cassava thrives in any tropical environment, does well in very poor soils, very dry conditions, making it an ideal must grow staple plant. Cassava grows best in full sun, or partial shade.

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Propagation

Cassava is propagated by woody cuttings. You simply go out to another plant and cut off a branch that looks woody! Take off all the leaves from that cutting, they will die anyway, so you may as well harvest them for dinner. You do not want to eat the stems so cut them off too. Now proceed to make as many cuttings from the single branch as possible, the cuttings should be at least 1 foot in length, 30 centimeters. Be careful to cut the branches at an angle so water is not able to gather and rot out the cutting (see photos). Make sure you know which side is up and which side is down during this process. Next just take your cutting and stick them downside right in the ground! If your cuttings are larger stick them in at a slight slant.

Now wait! Within two months you should have a healthy plant. You may begin harvesting leaves when the plant looks healthy enough to, about 50-70 days. And roots 9-12 months after planting, younger roots could be eaten earlier and older woody ones, for starch extraction, later. If you’re careful you may harvest roots without harming the plant and allowing it to continue to produce for years.

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Woody

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Non-Woody

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cut from plant

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cut off leaves

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cut off leaf stems

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cut to planting length (1 foot)

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cut tops at an angle to reduce rot

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stick into ground

Care

Simple weeding when necessary. This plant is very pest resistant. Watch it grow!

Eating

Always cook roots and leaves, as they are poisonous, but fear not cooking disables the poison! Use roots like potatoes and use the leaves like spinach, cook at least 15 minutes.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone growing cassava for cuttings, I’m sure they could spare a few branches. You could look on Craigslist. I think I bought three midsize branches for less than $3 off Craigslist and planted 3 plants, if I were smarter I would have used smaller cuttings and had more plants! Continue making cuttings from your plants for never ending propagation materials. A one time investment creates a lifetime of starchy roots and leaves! Amazing!

My Garden

I don’t have very much experience with cassava yet; I’ve only been growing it for a few months and haven’t had my first root harvest yet. However, I have harvested leaves and they are beautiful plants that are fun to watch grow.

I made a new bed a few months ago to grow different root vegetables, temporarily, while my bamboo matures. I’m growing sweet potato from cuttings and from farmers market tubers, ginger from farmers market and cassava cuttings from Craigslist, in-between an ornamental bamboo, Bambusa ventricosa, and an edible bamboo, Nastus elatus. This bed has been very successful and took off with minimal efforts. I rarely weed this bed, and just observe its growth. The only thing I sometimes have to pull out is honohono grass, and push the sweet potato creepy stems into the bed. This polyculture is perfect! All the plants work in harmony to shade out the weeds, each grow in different ways, and do not bother each other. The cassava grows up as a shrub, the ginger grows straight up in a single stock and the sweet potatoes sprawl over the ground. If I didn’t already plant my turmeric all over the rest of the yard I would have stuck them in there too!

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Watching the cassava grow inspired me to use the plants as a hedge! I’ve got some areas I want to make barriers from the street. So while I’m waiting for my longer-term palms to mature, I’m growing faster growing plants that can be a hedge. I planted the cassava in a row, and I’m growing roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, in another row. The roselle hasn’t taken off yet, but will hopefully soon, and I know cassava is a fast grower.

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Happy gardening!

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