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How To Plant and Harvest Cassava

Updated on June 6, 2017
Gina Welds-Hulse profile image

In addition to being a certified herbalist and aromatherapy consultant, Gina finds the unrelenting allure of gardening very strong.

Source

What is Cassava?

Cassava is a drought surviving crop which is easy to grow and very simple to harvest.

Cassava is:

  • a perennial woody shrub, grown as an annual
  • a major source of low cost carbohydrates for populations in the humid tropics.

The largest producer of cassava is Brazil, followed by Thailand, Nigeria, Zaire and Indonesia.

Production in Africa and Asia continues to increase, while that in Latin America has remained relatively level over the past 30 years.

Thailand is the main exporter of cassava with most of it going to Europe. It was carried to Africa by Portuguese traders from the Americas.

It is a staple food in many parts for western and central Africa and is found throughout the humid tropics. The world market for cassava starch and meal is limited, due to the abundance of substitutes.

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is also known as yuca and is an important plant for its starchy roots. These contain 30 percent starch and are high in carbohydrates. Cassava roots are prepared and eaten like potatoes. Cassava originated in Brazil and Paraguay, but now many other nations are learning how to grow cassavas.

All parts of cassava are valuable:

  • Cassava leaves can be used to make soup or as feed for livestock
  • Cassava stems can be used for planting more cassava
  • Cassava stems can be used for mushroom production
  • Cassava stems can be used for firewood
  • Cassava root can be cooked and eaten fresh or processed into flour.
  • Cassava can also meet industrial needs such as the production of bio-fuel and starch for use in paper- and drug-making industries.

Cassava Stems or Propagules

Cassava stems that were cut after harvesting, to be re-planted to grow more cassava.
Cassava stems that were cut after harvesting, to be re-planted to grow more cassava. | Source

Sprouted and Planted Cassava Stem

Plant you cassava stem at a 45 degree angle.
Plant you cassava stem at a 45 degree angle. | Source

How To Grow Cassava

Growing cassava successfully relies upon:

  • tropical climates
  • at least eight months of warm weather
  • well-drained soil
  • modest rainfall, but it can survive where soils are wet.

Cassava roots do not tolerate freezing temperatures.

The best growth is in full sun.

Growing cassava from start to harvest can take up to 18 months.

The plants are started from propagules made from parts of mature stems:

  1. Prepare propagules so you have 2 to 3 inch cuttings with several bud nodes along the length.
  2. Lay the cutting on prepared soil in a pot, and cover lightly with soil, or stick them in the ground straight up, or on the side and about 2 inches down, and keep lightly misted in a sunny location.
  3. Grow the cuttings indoors until temperatures outside are at least 70 F. (21 C.).
  4. Transplant them outside when the cuttings have sprouted and have at least 2 inches of growth.
  5. Within a week or so they’ll be growing new leaves. 6-12 months later (depending on care and rainfall), they’ll be ready to start harvesting.

Cassava Stem Showing New Growth

Sprouting cassava
Sprouting cassava

Nutritional Value Of Cassava Root

The table below will give you a clear idea on the nutritional value of cassava.

One cup of raw cassava contains:

  • Calories: 330
  • Total fat: One gram
  • Cholesterol: Zero percent
  • Sodium: 29 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 78 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 4 grams
  • Sugars: 4 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams

Sprouted Cassava Stem With Multiple Leaves

Planting and Harvesting Cassava

Cassava Patch, A Month After Planting

The cassava stems develop these beautiful leaves soon after planting.  The leaves can be used for soups as well as feed for cattle.
The cassava stems develop these beautiful leaves soon after planting. The leaves can be used for soups as well as feed for cattle. | Source

Cassava Patch, 8 Months After Planting

This is what the cassava patch looks like just before harvest time....about 8 months after planting.
This is what the cassava patch looks like just before harvest time....about 8 months after planting. | Source

How To Harvest Cassava

Cassava matures between 8 to 12 months after planting.

I like to cut back plants 2 weeks before harvesting to cause tubers to mature and increase yields by 10%.

Most cassava is harvested by hand, lifting the lower part of stem and pulling the roots out of the ground, then removing them from the base of the plant by hand.

To harvest:

  • Cut down the entire plant a foot or so from the ground
  • Throw the branches to the side
  • Harvest the leaves, if you plan to use them for cooking.
  • Start digging.

Be careful, when digging, as the roots are easy to chop through.

You can do some exploratory digging with your hand, as I prefer, or with a trowel, to avoid chopping through your tubers.

The roots you’re looking for grow down and away from the main stem and are generally located in the first 1-2’ of soil. They’re deep brown with flaky skin and can grow as big around as your thigh. Don’t dig them too long before processing as cassava doesn’t store well at all.

Levers and ropes can be used to assist harvesting.

A mechanical harvester has been developed in Brazil. It grabs onto the stem and lifts the roots from the ground. Care must be taken during the harvesting process to minimize damage to the roots, as this greatly reduces shelf life. During the harvesting process, the cuttings for the next crop are selected. These must be kept in a protected location to prevent desiccation.

Excess soil should be removed from the harvested tubers and tubers carefully packed in crates or bags for storage or transport.

Harvested Cassava Roots

Just a few of the cassava roots being harvested.
Just a few of the cassava roots being harvested. | Source

Not A Bad Harvest

Source
Cassava roots, plus some stems being saved for the next harvest.
Cassava roots, plus some stems being saved for the next harvest. | Source

Health Benefits Of Cassava

The tubes and roots of the cassava plant contain:

  • calories
  • proteins
  • fat
  • carbohydrates
  • iron
  • Vitamin B and C
  • starch

The leaves contain:

  • Energy 73 kcal
  • Protein 6.8 g
  • Fat 1.2 g
  • Carbohydrates 13 g
  • Calcium 165 mg
  • Phosphorus 54 mg
  • Iron 2 mg
  • Vitamin A 11000 IU
  • Vitamin B1 0.12 mg
  • Vitamin C 275 mg

Major cassava health benefits:

  • The high fiber content in cassava helps you stay full for a longer period and prevents binge eating thus helping you to lose weight.
  • Cassava fibers, which are not soluble in water, helps in the absorption of toxins that enter your intestines, thus making it helpful to the digestive system.
  • The fresh juice of 60 grams of cassava roots or leaves soaked in water for a couple of hours, blended and drunk twice a way will help with migraines.
  • The B17 content in these leaves helps in stimulating the production of red blood cells, the loss of which often leads to cancer.
  • Several pieces of cassava roots boiled in water, and allowed to come to room temperature, when drunk help to treat diarrhea.
  • Cassava is rich in Vitamin A that helps to improve the health of your eyes and in the future prevents blindness or poor eyesight.
  • Cassava leaves are also effective in treating fever. To get the best results, use the stem as well as the leaves of cassava to make a decoction. In order to make this, you have to boil the root and the leaves instead of steeping them in warm water. Simply take 400 grams of cassava leaves and 80 grams of the stem and boil them uncovered in a liter of water. When the volume of water is reduced by half, take it off the heat and cool.
  • Cassava leaves are rich in magnesium, which help with rheumatic disorders, such as arthritis, and lupus. Cassava supplies more than a third of your daily magnesium requirement per serving.

All natural rheumatic medication:

  • 150 grams of cassava leaves
  • some lemongrass
  • salt
  • 15 grams of ginger root.
  • 1 liter of water

Boil these ingredients in a liter of water until the volume has reduced to about 400 ccs.

Drink this potion every morning to help prevent inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis..

  • Cassava leaves are great for healing injuries and wounds.
  • If you are feeling averse towards food, cassava leaves will restore your appetite. To do this, make a concoction of cassava leaves with ginger and drink it every morning right after waking up.
  • A cup of cassava contains 15 percent of your daily folate requirement and 47 percent of the daily calcium requirement. Cassava leaves have a bland taste, so chop the leaves and cook them with meat and vegetables in a stew. This way, you will make a great meal out of the healthy leaf.
  • Folate and vitamin C, both found in plenty in cassava leaves, are very good for the body’s immune system.
  • Since cassava flour is high in carbohydrates, it helps in boosting energy. Not only that, your brain will begin to work more efficiently when you add cassava flour to your meals. Every serving contains 80% of carbohydrates, which is more than enough for your daily consumption.
  • Some experts believe that cassava flour is essential for a balanced nervous system. Not only does it fight stress and anxiety, but also provides support to your overall health.
  • Cassava flour will definitely help you build strong and lean muscles. It contains protein that maintains your muscle health and nourishes the tissues. One serving contains 2 grams of protein, which is enough to meet your daily requirements.
  • Cassava flour significantly lowers blood pressure. This is again because it is high in dietary fiber. Every cup of cassava flour increases your fiber intake by 4 grams.
  • With cassava flour, you can lower the chances of diseases such as osteoporosis. This is because it contains essential minerals such as copper and magnesium that promote a healthy lifestyle. One cup of cassava contains only 206 grams of copper, which covers around 24% of your daily requirement.

How To Care For Your Cassava Plant

Cassava plants produce huge ornamental lobed leaves. They can thrive in the summer as an annual in most regions of the United States.

Warmer temperatures promote the most rapid growth.

There are several chewing pests that cause foliage damage but, otherwise, cassavas are relatively disease and pest free. I have had no isses with pests or bugs here in Central Florida.

The major pests and diseases of cassava are:
1. Thrips and Mites: Can be controlled using a recommended miticide and Insect Growth Regulators. These pests are prevalent during dry periods and decreases as rainfall increases.
2. Cassava Shoot Fly: Systemic insecticides should be used only during heavy infestations.
3. Chinch bugs: Crotalaria can be used as a trap crop for this bug as well as crop rotation practices which break the life cycle of the bug.
4. Cassava Bacterial Blight, Rust and Super Elongation Disease: Contact the Ministry for advice on proper control measures.

Good cassava plant care should include the use of a slow release fertilizer in spring.

Keep the plants moderately moist.

If you live in areas that get very cold during the winter and you would like to preserve the plant, after harvesting simply move it to a pot indoors before freezing temperatures hit.

Overwinter cassava in a warm, well-lit location and transplant outside when soils heat back up.


How Is The Cassava Used?

There are many uses for the Cassava.

Dried roots can be milled into flour.

Roots can be peeled, grated and washed with water to extract the starch which can be used to make breads, crackers, pasta and pearls of tapioca.

Industrial uses for cassava include manufacture of products including

  • paper-making
  • textiles
  • adhesives
  • high fructose syrup
  • alcohol

Please check out the following videos for several other ways that cassava is used.

How To Make Jamaican Bammy

Bammy, Made From Cassava Root

When I was growing up in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, bammy was one fo those foods that I enjoyed eating. I even went to a factory on a school field trip, where I saw them being made, when I was around 8 years old.

Bammy is a traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread descended from the simple flatbread eaten by the Arawaks, Jamaica's original inhabitants. Today, it is produced in many rural communities and sold in stores and by street vendors in Jamaica and abroad.

Bammies have been consumed since pre-Columbian times and is believed to have originated with the native Arawak people. For centuries, it was the bread staple for rural Jamaicans until the cheaper, imported wheat flour breads became popular in the post-World War II era.

In the 1990s, the United Nations and the Jamaican government established a program to revive bammy production and to market it as a modern, convenient food product.

Bammy is made from cassava (also called yuca and manioc in other American cultures). Traditionally, the cassava is grated and placed in a press bag (woven with thatch leaves) and placed in an outdoor press where heavy stones are loaded on. Once completely drained, but still a bit moist, the cassava is beaten in a mortar then sieved to a fine flour texture. Salt is then added to taste. The dough is then pressed to form flat cakes about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter and 12 inch (1 cm) thick.

The cakes are baked until firm and can be stored for a long time if properly done. These can be prepared by dipping in coconut milk, water or regular milk and fried. Bammies are usually served as a starchy side dish with breakfast, with fish dishes or alone as a snack.

Finely grated cassava is also added to European-style pancakes, replacing part of the wheat flour.

Bammy cakes are used to serve fried fish at roadside stands (similar to taco shells, although the flavor is nothing like corn or flour taco shells.)


Cassava Recipes

Enjoy these delicious recipes, using cassava:

Boiled and fried cassava

Liberian fried cassava leaves

Cassava Pone

Cassava heavy cake


Boiled and Fried Cassava Root

Liberian Fried Cassava Leaves

Cassava Pone, a Dessert

Fast and Easy Recipe for Cassava Heavy Cake

How The Cassava Leaves Are Harvested

How The Cassava Stems Are Harvested

How The Cassava Roots Are Harvested

Word Of Caution

This popular tuber also has some side effects that you should be aware of.

What – you didn’t think a plant this awesome could exist without a downside, did you?

Here are a few of them:

  1. Cassava contains a toxin called linamarin. When eaten raw, the human digestive system converts this toxin into cyanide, which can prove to be fatal. The plant is full of it, from its lovely leaves to its tasty roots. (This is another reason it’s almost pest free). Fortunately, boiling or fermenting gets most of it out, so fear not. A lot of plants we eat are poisonous. Just google the “cashew tree” or look up the toxicity of dry kidney beans. Now THAT’S scary. Compared to many things we eat, cassava is pretty tame.
  1. The cassava root rots quickly, which leads to depletion in its nutritional value. It can also cause fungal and bacterial infections.
  1. The toxic substances in cassava are known to affect the pituitary gland and impact the functioning of liver and kidneys.

Now, don’t let these side effects scare you away! If you peel, clean, and cook cassava well, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy its goodness without worrying about toxins! Cleaning and cooking flush out all the toxins from cassava and makes it completely edible.

© 2017 Gina Welds Hulse

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    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 9 months ago from Central Florida

      Fascinating, Gina! I've never heard of cassava. It's nutritional properties and versatility are pretty amazing.

      Thanks for such a well-written glimpse into this amazing root!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 10 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Informative hub about cassava. Thanks for this interesting introduction to this plant.

    • peedshane74 profile image

      Shane Peed 10 months ago from Ft. Dodge, IA USA

      Good article!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 10 months ago from The Caribbean

      My mother grew and harvested cassava, but I know a lot more about it now after reading your article. Cassava pone is a real delicacy. Thanks for the research and the presentation.

    • Gina Welds-Hulse profile image
      Author

      Gina Welds Hulse 10 months ago from Rockledge, Florida

      Hi Lena. Thanks for stopping by. No, I don't think cassava would do very well in San Francisco. It does need several months of consistently warm weather to thrive.

      I checked out your profile, and will definitely be trying a few of the recipes posted.

    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 10 months ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      I do edible gardening, too, but I'm not sure cassava would grow here (in a temperate zone). We have plenty of sun year-round, but I don't think the temperatures are warm enough consistently. A good read, nonetheless!

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