The Cassava Experiment

Cassava is one of the root crops I am determined to grow well. Cassava is an incredibly important root crop worldwide, providing concentrated calories in areas with poor soil and little rain. More importantly to me, cassava plantations are self-sustaining because the root stock can come from the previous year’s plants after you harvest the roots. That means if you find or develop an optimal strain for your area, you never have to purchase cassava again. I tried growing cassava for the first time last year in huge tubs so I could bring them inside in case of an early freeze.
yuca 2

That was my entire cassava crop, harvested the day before Christmas. We barbequed an entire pig in our back yard for our Yule/Christmas family feast and I wanted to serve my home grown cassava along with it. Ha.
cassava may

So I tried again this spring with new rootstock  but this time I planted the cassava in the ground. This is the north side of the house next to the back door. You can see the pond in the background. This patch of ground was covered in a brick patio. We pulled up the bricks, cleared the weeds, scattered a little aged chicken manure, planted, and then I put down a thick layer of chipped mulch. I didn’t till or add any other amendments, so the soil is the standard Gainesville dark gray sand. This photo was taken in May, soon after the cassava was planted. The plants are about 3 feet tall.
cassava july

And here is a photo of me standing in my cassava plantation last weekend. I am 5′ 2″ tall. There was a decent amount of clear space between the cassava plants so I planted a few black cowpeas, which you can see on the lower right. Since these cowpeas only get partial sun they aren’t growing as fast as the cowpeas in full sun in the front yard, but that’s okay. Producing food is their secondary purpose. Their primary purposes are nitrogen fixing and crowding out weeds.

If the plants are growing as vigorously underground as they are growing aboveground, then I have hope for this year’s cassava harvest. I am very much looking forward to making all of the yucas fritas with homemade mojo, baked cassava bread, and aranitas as we can stand this winter. But the big cassava project will be for Yule.

cassava pasteles

These are Puerto Rican pasteles, made by a co-worker’s mom for me. Pasteles are the Caribbean version of tamales, served in Puerto Rican households for Christmas. There’s not much corn grown in Puerto Rico, so the local took the cooking method and adapted it for the foods that they had access to- plantains, cassava, banana leaves, and pork. These delicious pasteles were the inspiration for an entire project. I want to make a version of pasteles that reflect what’s being grown and harvested here during that time of year, especially what I’m personally growing and harvesting. My dream is to serve pasteles for Yule made with my home grown cassava, filled with herbs and vegetables from my garden and pork from a pig I shot and butchered myself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *