Tropical Crops- Disappointment & Lessons

I harvested the rest of my tropical crops on Friday: Cassava, pigeon peas, and jicama.

Cassava

cassava 2014

This is the third year I’ve grown cassava. The first year was a complete bust. Last year was much better, I actually had enough cassava to make pasteles for a family Solstice feast. This year absolutely sucked. This is just under three pounds of trimmed cassava roots. I should’ve included something for scale- these roots are small. See how few long, straight roots there are? I think I’m crowding the polyculture. Cassava has large shallow roots. The cassava is planted next to ginger, elephant ears and pigeon peas- all of which have shallow roots. Siembra Farm grows fabulous, huge cassava every year. The next time I can get to the farmers’ market I’ll be grilling them about growing cassava as well as buying a bunch of theirs to shred and freeze along with mine.

Pigeon Peas/Gandules

gandules

Last year I planted one decent-sized seedling tree from Edible Plant Project in a native flowerbed. It grew huge and we got a decent amount (about a pound) of dry, mature pigeon peas before the first freeze. This year I planted two  seedling trees from EPP in the back yard, thinking I’d get about double the harvest. Despite this being a year of more-normal rain (48.4 inches so far this year) the trees never reached the same size and didn’t start producing peas until very late in the year. Then we had a snap freeze and a week later it was 80. I missed the harvesting window entirely. By the time I harvested the pods off the trees the tree was long dead and the pods were covered in mold. After shelling that entire tray of pods we ended up with about a cup of dry pigeon peas. Most weren’t formed and at least half the mature peas were moldy and ruined. I almost cried.

Jicama

jicamabasket

Did you know jicama is a legume? I didn’t. It may be the only legume with an edible root. The plant part is a lovely large vine with large leaves and lovely purple pea-blossom flowers that drive the bumblebees mad with desire. The vines perished in the freeze (along with their unripe seed pods, darnit) so I dug up the roots. The first root (bottom if the basket) was very large but at some point it had split in the ground. The other three were very small, about the size of small turnips or apples. Again, after all the lovely heat and rain, I expected a good return. They are small but interestingly- they have ZERO insect damage. None.

What I’ll do different next year

Plant earlier. Try the pigeon peas in the forest garden, more sun and more pollinators. Plant the cassava in the same place- it’s literally the only place in the yard to grow something that big that isn’t already full of roots- but I’ll amend the soil heavily with compost and spread the plants out more. I’ll move some of the gingers and add something with a deep taproot instead. The jicama is the tough one. Knowing that I’ll only get one root per plant, and knowing now how bloody huge the vines get, will make it a challenge to grow in a greater quantity. Jicama may remain a treat.

These are “crops” that are passively grown. They receive zero irrigation or fertilizer after they’re planted. They never needed any pest intervention. There is a beetle that bores holes in pigeon peas after they’ve started ripening but they rarely ruin more than one pea in the pod so I don’t mind. That’s the only pest I’ve noticed. Not too shabby if I could increase the number of plants.

What was your greatest garden failure this year?

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