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.