Cassava goes by many names, including yuca or manioc. While it may not be the most popular food in North America, it is one of the top staple foods throughout the world. Iʻve had this plant growing in my garden for many years. It should really be growing in every tropical garden.
Cassava is a starchy root vegetable that is similar to a long white sweet potato but with a woody skin. Cassava grows well with plenty of sun and warm weather, meaning a tropical climate is ideal for growing this nutritious vegetable.
It is easy to grow and produces a lot, making it one of my top crops to grow in an emergency survival food garden. Iʻm going to share with everything Iʻve learned from growing this amazing plant over the years.
The Variety Of Cassava You Plant Is Key
There are several types of cassava, which fall under two categories: sweet and bitter. I recommend planting the sweet cassava, not because I think it tastes so much sweeter (despite the name), but because it is easier to cook and prepare.
One variety of cassava to look out for is called Golden Yellow,
I especially like this kind for making ‘cassava fries’.
How To Plant Cassava
Cassava is one of the easiest plants to plant. Prepare some soil, stick a cutting in the ground, wait 9-12 months until its ready to harvest. Simple. But for the best results, read on.
Best Month To Plant Cassava
In Hawai’i, the best time for planting is at the end of January, early February for prime rain. If you’re in another tropical location, plant when the cassava is sure to get regular rain for 6-8 consecutive weeks to help grow solid roots.
However, don’t drown the thing! Cassava plants like lots of sun, too. Remember, it’s a tropical plant.
Cassava plants need full sun and prefer hot climates, not temperate ones. Gardeners in Hawaii, Texas, Florida and Mexico will have an easier time growing cassava than homesteaders in temperate climates due to the amount of sun and warmth.
Cassava is great because it is so hearty! This root vegetable grows in pretty much any type of soil, as long as it gets enough water and sunlight.
Because you probably want the roots more than the leaves, make sure the soil is soft enough (loamy is best) so that the roots can easily stretch and grow nice and long.
Water & Climate Needs
Cassava needs a solid eight months of warm/hot weather to grow, and will not do well in growing zones under zone 8 (Hawai’i is categorized as Zone 9 and higher, so we have perfect weather for cassava).
Give your plants a good amount of water until they become ‘established’ and put out strong roots. It is best to plant cassava around the rainy season, to give it a solid 6-8 weeks of regular rain.
Alternatively, if you want to plant cassava during another period, you’ll need to be good about watering daily, at first.
Once the top portion of the plant (the part with leaves) is about a foot and a half high, cut back on watering. Once the cassava plant has grown this much and is in soft, moist soil, it should be getting sufficient water via the roots without additional watering on your part.
Once your cassava plant is growing, don’t stress it by over watering it.
Cassava is known around the world as a drought-resistant root vegetable. If you over-water it, or it gets too much rain and remains in soggy soil (due to poor drainage) the roots can rot and ruin your yield.
You should plant from cuttings – but not from pieces of the cassava root. These guys are not potatoes, and you cannot plant ‘sprouts’, you need cuttings of a mature cassava plant that has already produced a crop previously.
The stems should be planted in small mounds either vertically or slanted. Slanted is ideal for helping the cassava roots get plenty of space to spread out, but vertical is best if you’re worried about the soil being too wet or the plant drowning (especially because you’re probably planting during the rainy season).
Cassava roots grow in long, wide bunches beneath the plant. Give them plenty of space and don’t over-crowd them. A good rule of thumb is at least 3 feet/1 full meter between each plant.
Caring For Cassava
What Fertilizer Is Best?
Some of the top nutrients found in cassava are magnesium and potassium. The plants draw these minerals out of the soil, so make sure that whatever fertilizer you use has a boost of potassium and magnesium.
Dealing With Pests
Some of the common pests that go after cassava plants are mealybugs, mites and whiteflies. Another critter to keep away from your cassava plants is ground termites.
Mealybugs and Mites
Mealybugs and mites attack the leaves and stems of the plants, which, if the infestation becomes severe, could harm the growth of the roots (afterall, they need their roots and stems for growing and getting sunlight). You’ll need to turn the leaves of your plant over and check the under-side for eggs or bugs.
There are specific species of mites that prefer only cassava plants and don’t harm other plants in the garden.
Eggs of these pests can travel in cuttings and be introduced when you plant your first crop. That’s why it’s important to start off right; make sure you get healthy cassava cuttings from a reputable source.
Whiteflies excrete a substance on the plant’s leaves that results in mold and then the leaves will die.
What to do
Look for damage on and under the cassava plant leaves for these types of pests. You can use pesticides to destroy the bugs, but don’t go over-the-top: mites and mealybugs have natural predators; beetles, wasps and bigger mites.
Aggressive pesticide-usage can kill these helpful insects, too. Use pesticides as-needed, as a treatment, but allow nature’s food-chain to be your prevention as much as possible.
The best approach is to never let these pests reach your garden or fields, by planting healthy unaffected cassava stems in the first place.
Ground termites can decimate your cassava crop, before it even starts! They like to eat the woody stem cuttings (yep, the ones you plant to start your crop off). Make sure that you have completely destroyed any nests of ground termites before you begin planting cassava.
Companion planting is always a good idea, but especially in the case with cassava; planting ‘friendly neighbors’ can encourage predatory insects that will reduce or eliminate pests that would go after your cassava.
Some of the top companions for cassava include beans (soybeans, kidney beans, navy beans and lima beans) and corn.
A bad companion for cassava is potatoes, so don’t plant them together.
How To Harvest Cassava
How long does it take to grow?
Patience is key when growing cassava; it can take 8 months to 18 months for cassava to grow. Remember, you’re growing roots here, so you won’t be able to see the fruits of your labor until you harvest, so just be patient. It will be worth it.
How do you know if it is ready to harvest?
To determine if your cassava roots are ready to harvest, you have two options: you can either time your cassava from planting or look for fruits on the branches of the cassava plant.
If you’re going by time, count nine months from the time of planting, then dig around the cassava plant and find one of the roots. Cut it off from the plant and inspect the cassava root; does it have a thick, woody skin and firm, white flesh? Then go ahead and use it.
If the roots are still quite small, the skin is soft and the flesh is not yet firm (think sweet potato, not regular potato for level of firmness), then give the plant another 4 weeks before checking again.
Another way to tell if your cassava is ready to harvest is by fruits. When the roots are ready, the plant will produce small green, berry-like fruits. Usually, the leaves will start to turn yellow and wilt a little at this time, too.
If you’re going by this method, you probably should harvest all your cassava at once, so that it doesn’t overstay in the ground.
How long can you leave it in the ground?
Allowing your cassava to remain in the ground beyond 18 months risks the roots becoming dry and woody and losing their pleasant texture and taste. It is best to harvest when it is ready, which should be between 9-18 months.
Tubers and Leaves
Do not eat raw cassava, either leaves or the roots. There are trace elements (cyanide) that are toxic to humans. You must cook, bake, boil or fry your cassava before you eat it.
Cassava roots are known as ‘tubers’, and are what many readers probably associate with the term. However, there are several ways to enjoy this nutritious plant.
Cassava leaves are full of protein, just make sure you boil or steam them for 7 minutes or more to remove the toxins before eating them.
The tubers are great for replacing potatoes; try roasted cassava the next time you do a barbeque or cut up pieces for homemade cassava fries.
Making Cassava Flour
Cassava flour is slightly different from tapioca flour; while both are made from ground cassava (and are gluten free!), tapioca is mainly starch and cassava flour has more fiber.
You can, however, swap cassava flour for tapioca in mainy recipes, just know it will turn out heavier and probably thicker than if you used tapioca flour.
Ingredients Needed: 4 pounds of peeled, washed cassava.
- coarsely grate the cassava
Use a blender or food processor with caution. The cassava does have natural water in it, and you risk making a soggy cassava dough if you over-blend it. Instead, you can grate it by hand and give your forearms a good workout!
- Wrap the grated cassava in a kitchen towel and wring out as much water as you can. The cassava should look like finely shredded coconut.
- Place the grated cassava bits on a baking tray and spread evenly and thinly across the entire tray.
- Dry out the cassava in your oven or a food dehydrator, or in the sun; it should not be ‘roasted’ or change color, but remain white. I left mine outside in the sun for 3 days (bringing indoors at night to avoid moisture) and it dried up nicely.
** The longer you dry it, the better your cassava flour will turn out.
- Place the dried cassava in my coffee grinder (on the ‘fine’ setting) to make it have a more flour-like consistency. You could use your food processor, or hand mill, if you have one.
Because the homemade flour has not been treated, it expires pretty quickly (2 weeks max), so make sure to use it up before then. Store in an air-tight container.
Cassava really is an amazing plant for the tropical home garden. I hope this post will help you grow some amazing Cassava of your own. Mahalo for reading.