Cassava Planting and Care

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also known as yuca, manihot, manioc, and tapioca, is a versatile tropical root vegetable that can be grown in a food forest in central Florida. It is a hardy and easy to care for plant that can tolerate a wide range of soil types and moisture levels, and can withstand hot, dry weather. It is known for its large, starchy roots that are a good source of carbohydrates and can be eaten cooked or processed into flour, tapioca, and other food products. It currently provides a significant source of calories and starch for a large portion of the world’s population.

When choosing varieties of Cassava to grow in your food forest, consider selecting a cultivar that is well-suited to the specific growing conditions in your area. There is a bitter and sweet variety. The sweet variety contains less poisonous acid in its skin. All cassava has to be cooked, usually boiled, to be eaten. I actually prefer it to boiled potatoes.

Cassava prefers well-drained soil, full sun, and regular watering. When planting Cassava, make sure to space the plants about 3-4 feet apart and make sure they get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.

Cassava is a relatively low-maintenance plant and does not require frequent watering or fertilization once it is established. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil during the first year after planting, as young plants need consistent moisture to establish their root systems.

Cassava roots are ready to harvest after 6-8 months, sometimes up to a year after planting. The roots can be harvested by digging them up gently with a as few tools as possible so as not to break the tubers. Be sure to remove all the leaves from the roots before storage. Cassava roots should be peeled and boiled or roasted to remove the toxic compounds before consuming. Cassava does not store as long as other root vegetable types, so it’s important to use them quickly.

Cassava plants are self-pollinating, meaning that they do not require a separate pollinator to produce fruit. They are not cold-hardy, so it’s important to protect them from frost or freeze events. Propagation is usually done by stem cuttings, which can be taken from mature plants. You can harvest, save the cuttings, overwinter them, and plant again in spring.

Disease and pest management for cassava includes regular monitoring for signs of cassava mosaic disease and taking action to prevent the spread of infected plants. Pests such as mealybugs and white flies can also be a problem, but can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Chaya Planting and Care

Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), commonly known as Tree Spinach, is a tropical perennial leafy vegetable that is a perfect fit for a food forest in central Florida. As a master gardener and horticulturist with over 25 years of experience in the area, I have found Chaya to be a hardy and easy to care for plant that can tolerate a variety of soil types and moisture levels while withstanding hot, dry weather. The plant is known for its large and nutritious leaves that can be consumed cooked or raw, and are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.

There are several cultivars of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), and some may have broader leaves than others. However, the plant is typically characterized by its deeply lobed leaves, which can range from 3 to 12 inches in length and 2 to 10 inches in width. The size and shape of the leaves may also vary depending on the growing conditions and age of the plant. The maple leaf shaped variety of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) is a cultivar that has a distinctively different leaf shape than other chaya varieties. The leaves of the maple leaf chaya are more rounded and have a shape similar to that of a maple leaf, hence, its name.

This variety is known for its tender leaves that are easy to cook and have a mild, nutty flavor. The leaves are high in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to any diet.

To plant Chaya, choose a spot with well-drained soil and full sun exposure. Space the plants approximately 6-8 feet apart, and ensure they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. While Chaya is a low-maintenance plant, it is important to monitor the soil moisture level during the first year after planting to ensure consistent moisture for the establishment of the root system.

Chaya is self-pollinating and can produce fruit, but it is primarily grown for its large, nutritious leaves. Leaves are ready for harvest within 3-4 months after planting, and they can be picked regularly. It is recommended to leave some leaves on the plant for continued photosynthesis and growth. Raw leaves contain small amounts of hydrocyanic acid, which can cause discomfort or illness if consumed in large quantities, so it is important to cook the leaves before eating.

Propagation of Chaya is easy through cuttings, which can be taken at any time of the year. While Chaya is a hardy plant, it is still susceptible to some pests and diseases. To manage pests, use a natural insecticide like neem oil, and for diseases, ensure good air circulation around the plant and avoid overhead watering.

Chaya is a valuable addition to any food forest in central Florida, providing a bountiful and nutritious harvest of large leaves for many years with proper care and attention.

Katuk Planting and Care

Katuk (Sauropus androgynus) is a tropical plant that can thrive in Central Florida if given the right growing conditions. It is a fast-growing, evergreen shrub that can reach up to 6 feet tall and is native to Southeast Asia. Also known as sweet leaf or star gooseberry, it is a popular edible leafy green due to its high nutritional value, including protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is said to have more of a nutty flavor than other less tasty leafy greens.

There are a few different varieties of katuk, but all require similar growing conditions. The plant prefers a tropical climate with high humidity and temperatures between 70-90°F (21-32°C). It also requires a well-drained soil and a lot of sunlight.

To plant katuk, it’s best to start with a young plant or cutting. The plant can be propagated by taking a cutting from a mature plant and rooting it in water or soil. Once rooted, the cutting can be transplanted into a well-drained soil in a location that receives full sun.

Katuk is a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require frequent watering or fertilization once it is established. It can tolerate some drought, but it’s important to monitor the soil moisture level during the first year after planting, as young plants need consistent moisture to establish their root systems.

The leaves of katuk can be harvested within 2-3 months after planting. They can be picked regularly, but make sure to leave some leaves on the plant to continue photosynthesis and growth. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and have a nuttier flavor than other leafy greens.

In terms of disease and pest management, katuk is generally a hardy plant with few issues. However, like any plant, it may be susceptible to pests such as aphids or spider mites. Keeping the plant well-watered and healthy can help prevent infestations.

Katuk is a common food forest plant to grow in Central Florida due to its high humidity and heat requirements, it can be a great addition to a food forest if given the right growing conditions. It is easy to care for, and its edible leaves are highly nutritious. To grow katuk successfully, start with a young plant or cutting, provide it with a well-drained soil, full sun, and consistent moisture during its first year of growth.

Mulberry Planting and Care

The Mulberry tree or bush (Morus spp) is a versatile and hardy tree that can be grown in a food forest in central Florida. It is known for its delicious and nutritious fruit that can be eaten fresh or used for making jams, jellies, and wine. There are several varieties of mulberry trees, including both native and non-native varieties. The black mulberry, red mulberry, and white mulberry are generally how the varieties are broken up. Black mulberry trees produce the sweetest fruit and are most commonly grown in Europe. Red mulberry trees are native to North America and produce fruit with a rich flavor. White mulberry trees are native to China and produce a fruit that is less sweet than black or red mulberries.Florida native varieties include the red mulberry (Morus rubra) which are well-suited to the growing conditions in central Florida. The dwarf everbearing is a type of red mulberry that remains a smaller shrub type growing pattern.

When planting mulberry trees in your food forest, it’s important to choose a location with well-drained soil and full sun. Mulberry trees can tolerate a wide range of soil types, but they prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Dig a hole that is twice the size of the tree’s root ball and plant it at the same depth it was previously growing. Space the trees about at least 15 feet and up to 20-30 feet apart, depending on the variety, to allow for proper growth and fruit production.

Mulberry trees are relatively low-maintenance and do not require frequent watering or fertilization once they are established. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil during the first year after planting, as young trees need consistent moisture to establish their root systems. An established mulberry tree can tolerate dry spells, but a young tree needs regular watering.

Mulberry trees can fruit the first year although it may only be a handful, but the following year, especially if pruned correctly, it will produce in larger volume. Some nurseries sell trees that will likely result in significant fruit the first year.  This is also in my top three fruit trees to put into a food forest or edible landscape early.  The fruit is ready to harvest when it turns dark purple or black, usually around late spring to early summer, depending on the variety and the weather conditions. The fruit can be picked by hand or with a fruit picker.

In addition to its delicious fruit, the mulberry tree also provides other benefits for a food forest. The tree’s leaves are also edible, and are sometimes used in super nutritious teas or as a leafy green in salads. The tree also provides shade and habitat for wildlife.

Mulberry trees are a great addition to a food forest in central Florida. They are hardy and easy to care for, and produce a delicious and nutritious fruit. I have abused a number of them quite a bit and they still come back to life.  I even removed one from a pile that was set to be burned, trimmed the roots, potted it up, then sold it for $200 after bringing it back to life.  Florida native varieties such as the red mulberry and the white mulberry are well-suited to the growing conditions in central Florida. These trees are low-maintenance and can produce fruit relatively quickly after planting.

Loquat Planting and Care

Loquat trees are an evergreen fruit tree native to southeastern China. The Loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) is a small tropical fruit tree that can be grown in a food forest in central Florida. It is also known as the Japanese plum.  It is known for its small, orange-yellow, and juicy fruit that are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Loquat trees are a very hardy evergreen, drought tolerant, and can tolerate a wide range of soil types. They are also known for their tolerance to wind and salt spray, making them a good choice for coastal regions.  At first I didn’t have much interest in them, but due to their hardiness, I’ve since moved them up into my top five fruit trees to start a landscape or food forest with.  They have ornamental value and are already placed in neighborhood landscapes.  They can also grow quite big and bushy and provide lots of shade when mature. The fruit is oval in shape and can range from yellow to orange when ripe. Loquat trees are easy to grow and care for and make a great addition to any garden or landscape.

Loquat trees prefer well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They are drought tolerant, but regular watering during dry spells will help ensure healthy growth and fruit production. When planting a loquat tree, dig a hole that is twice the size of the tree’s root ball and plant it at the same depth it was previously growing. Do not amend the native soil. Loquat trees prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.

Fertilize loquat trees with a balanced organic fertilizer in the spring and summer. Mulching around the base of the tree will help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring to promote healthy growth and shape the tree.

Loquat trees are cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures as low as 10°F (-12°C) for short periods. However, extended periods of freezing temperatures can damage the tree and reduce fruit production.

When choosing varieties of Loquat to grow in your food forest, consider selecting a cultivar that is well-suited to the specific growing conditions in your area. Some varieties for central Florida include:

‘Big Jim’: This variety is known for its large fruit size and high yield.

‘Champagne’: This variety is known for its sweet and juicy fruit with a high sugar content.

‘Fukushu’: This variety is known for its large and sweet fruit and tolerance to cold temperatures.

Loquats are self-fertile, meaning they can produce fruit without the need for cross-pollination. However, planting multiple trees can increase fruit production and improve fruit quality.

Loquat trees typically take about 2-3 years from planting to reach maturity and be ready for harvest. The fruit should be picked when it is fully ripe, which is when the fruit is orange or yellow in color and slightly soft to the touch. To harvest, simply pick the fruit off the tree with your fingers. Loquat fruit does not continue to ripen after being picked, so it is important to harvest the fruit at the right time.

Loquat fruit is a delicious and nutritious fruit that can be eaten fresh, used in jams, jellies, and baking, or dried and used as a sweetener. The fruit can be eaten as is, or used in a variety of culinary applications such as pies, jams, jellies, and syrups.

Loquat trees can be propagated by seed or by grafting. Seed propagation is simple but can result in trees with variable fruit quality. Grafting is a more reliable method of propagation and allows for the selection of specific fruit varieties.

Loquats are relatively pest and disease resistant. However, they can be susceptible to mealybugs, scale insects, and aphids. These pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Loquat trees can also be affected by fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and anthracnose. These diseases can be controlled by ensuring good air circulation around the tree, avoiding overhead watering, and treating with a fungicide if necessary.