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Yuca (Manihot esquelenta)

Yuca is a delicious starchy root vegetable that is grown extensively in the poor soils of the tropics. It is a tall, graceful, easy-to-grow plant.

Soil: Yuca tolerates soils of low fertility, but sure seems to grow better if manured and fertilized. Do this with caution, as tilling manure in near the surface may encourage shallow rooting, and make the plants prone to falling over. Conversely, shallow roots are easier to dig up. In addition, too much nitrogen seems to make them more susceptible to pests like spider mites, which can devastate your crop and be difficult to control chemically.

Water: Yuca is one of the most drought tolerant crops in existence. Once it is established, you should not need to water at all to keep it alive. In very dry years, it will not grow much without irrigation, but with plenty of water, it may just grow stems and leaves, and neglect growing roots.

Sun: full.

Cold: Yuca will freeze back in the winter, but almost always comes back in the spring. Freezing will make the stems unusable for propagation.

Propagation: Propagation is by stem cuttings. Pieces of stem (the thicker the better) about 8 inches long, are stuck ½ -¾ of the way into loosened soil. They will root in and grow without additional care. We do this in individual pots and keep them in the greenhouse, because freezing will kill new plants. Alternately, you can cut up one of your plants in August to plant next year’s field. The plants should become well enough established by winter to come back up in the spring. Cut stems will last a long time in storage provided they do not dry out.

Pests: Spider mites, mealybugs, and deer can badly damage your crop. Spider mites and mealybugs can be reduced by being careful not to over-fertilize – especially late in the season. They can also be controlled by thorough sprayings of neem oil insecticide. Spider mites can usually be controlled with soap spray at double the recommended concentration. I recommend “insecticidal soap” over dish soap, as it uses potassium instead of sodium as the positive ion, making it healthy for plants.

Harvesting: Harvest of yuca is during the dormant season, usually from December through March. I carefully excavate around the roots, and clip them off the central knot of roots. The middle of the plant can be replanted and harvested again the next year. The plant should be left intact until it will be used, as the roots spoil very quickly after harvest.

Preparation: Our variety is a low-cyanide variety. Others, called cassava and manioc, require more preparation to make edible. Yuca should be peeled before cooking, and is often chopped and then boiled for 20 minutes in salt water before pan or deep frying. It can be fried or baked without pre-boiling. It goes well with strongly flavored things like lime, garlic, salt, onions, tomatoes, or dipped in garlic sauce or added to soups.


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