Better Cassava Varieties


This week I came across better cassava varieties than I’ve seen before.

Back in Florida, I grew the cassava I could get. It was a variety I got from my friend Ralph, who in turn had gotten it from some Indians, who I assume brought it in from India at some point.



The plants were tall (often hitting 10′ plus) and took a long time to make roots, which made them a pain to grow in North Florida, though I still grew and harvested them successfully.

It just took two seasons. And man, my voice sounds high in that video! My ex-videographer was always having some weird problems with recording either the audio or the video, though the editing looked cool.

Here I’ve found some better varieties of cassava than I used to have – but I’m still testing. Unfortunately, not all cassava are created equal. I had some that did really lousy for me.

Wait, my voice sounds high in that one too.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity…

Thus far the best kind I’ve grown is an improved partly red-leafed variety that makes very short plants with large roots even in adverse conditions.

This last week I was able to attend a local agribusiness event. There I saw this:

That's some serious cassava. #gardening

A post shared by David Good (@david_t_good) on

And I got to taste a variety known as “butter stick,” which is rich, pale yellow and creamy. Even steamed it was delicious and tasted like it had been buttered.

I hope to visit a plant research facility and hunt some down. It was quite good.

Over the years I’ve had mixed results with cassava.

Sometimes it’s tasted quite decent, like a nice, dense potato. Other times it’s been slightly bitter and watery. Cassava used to be my favorite root crop (I speak of it quite highly in my post “Cassava: King of Staples,”) but after multiple experience with so-so roots with lousy flavor, it’s taken a back seat to yams.

Even at the agricultural event, my wife picked up a couple of sweet pudding cups made from local roots for us to eat. At first taste, they were quite nice – but then in crept a bitterness underneath the sugar and spices. I wouldn’t care to eat them again, or to grow whatever variety of cassava they were made from.

I suppose the moral of the story is to keep hunting and improving whenever you can. As I write in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, some varieties will disappoint you whereas others will outshine. Just compare beefsteak tomatoes to Everglades tomato in a Florida garden. You’ll almost always fail on the former whereas the latter just keeps on kicking and producing sweet fruits, sometimes for years.

Looks like I need to dig more beds this next year and see if I can grow some good cassava varieties that are worth eating. Butter Stick was excellent.

The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown


Last week I created a video on the top 10 tropical staple crops.

It took me way too long to write and edit, so I hope you find it incredibly helpful.

Let’s run through them here, along with a few notes.

10: Grain Corn


Stick to dent corn varieties in warm, hot climates. Corn needs decent soil and plenty of nitrogen but it’s the best grain for production and processing. Much easier to process than small grains like oats, rye and wheat. You need to nixtamalize it with lime or eat it as part of a balanced diet to avoid pellagra, a niacin deficiency which will mess you up.

9: Pumpkins/Winter Squash


These are one of my favorite plants to grow. In the tropics, most of the pumpkins grown are C. moschata types, though there are others too. Pumpkins take up a lot of space but make big, storable fruit. On the downside, they’re not that calorie dense and it’s easy to get sick of eating pumpkins.

8: Breadfruit


Breadfruit is delicious and productive, plus it’s a tree so you don’t need to plow and plant like you do with annual staples. They are tough trees though they can’t take any cold. The downside is that the breadfruit come in seasons instead of spread out through the year.

7: Coconuts


So long as you don’t cut through your hand while opening them, coconuts are very good. They are high in good fats and nutrients, grow easily even in terribly soil, plus require very little work to maintain. The fronds are also useful for crafts, thatching, baskets and more. The downside of coconuts is they are a pain to open.

6: Bananas and Plantains


It’s a fruit! No, it’s a starch!

Unripe bananas and plantains can be cooked and eaten like potatoes or fried like chips, making them a good way to fill in the caloric cracks. Though they are non-seasonal, they do produce better in the rainy season unless you keep them watered. And they like a lot of water! They also like a lot of nitrogen. Plant them around the septic tank and you’re golden.

5: Malanga and Taro


Malanga, AKA dasheen, has edible leaves (when cooked ONLY) and tubers (ditto). Its cousin taro needs more cooking to neutralize the oxalic acid in the roots. They like a lot of water and grow like weeds in a drainage ditch or shallow pond.

4: Pigeon Peas


Pigeon peas are a very easy-to-grow nitrogen-fixing tropical staple crop. The dry peas are a good source of protein and the younger peas can be eaten like common green peas. If you have marginal ground, hack holes in it and plant pigeon peas. The downside is that shelling the peas takes way too long. I also find them a bit hard to digest.

3: Cassava


Cassava is a carbohydrate bazooka. It’s productive even in bad soil and has roughly twice the calories of white potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s almost devoid of real nutrition. It’s just a blast of carbs. This makes it great for a crisis but not good to eat all the time. The leaves are edible when boiled and are nutrient-rich, so it makes sense to eat the leaves and roots together.

2: Sweet Potatoes


Sweet potatoes have edible greens and roots, produce abundantly in a small space, plus they’re high in calories and nutrition. An excellent choice for survival and non-seasonal.

1: True Yams


Yes, I am prejudiced. Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are my favorite staple crop. The flavor is good, they take almost no work to grow, they’ll live on the margins of a food forest and they’ll even grow and produce when guerilla planted in the woods. Grow some – you’ll be impressed.


Any combination of these ten tropical staple crops could keep you alive in a crisis. I recommend planting more than one of them for variation in diet, plus redundancy. IF cassava does badly one year, you’ll still have pigeon peas. If the malanga doesn’t get enough water, maybe the corn will come through. Experiment and see what grows best in your area.

Did I miss one of your favorite tropical staples? Leave me a note and let me know.


Less than Impressive Cassava Harvests


I picked the most likely candidate in the overgrown cassava bed down the hill and dug it:

That’s barely worth feeding to the chickens!

Back when I grew cassava in North Florida, the roots would grow huge in the loamy sand. Here, I don’t know. People do get decent harvests, but my guess is the shade and the clay hurt our yields.

I’m going to try again and see if I can do better. These were grown in loosened soil but I think they could have used more sun.

We’ll see.

Pictures from the new gardens


The first thing we did after moving in to our new homestead was start planting.

Fortunately, there were some beds here already, filled with soil and just waiting to burst into new life:


The bed in the foreground to the far right, filled up with random stuff, is our new compost pile. I always rotate compost piles right through my garden areas as described in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. It makes a lot of sense. Fertility stays right where I’m going to be growing next year’s crop, plus the resulting compost is easily accessible for my other beds. I can even get fancy and pile a little dirt in the middle to plant squash or melons if I feel like it. For now, we’re filling the compost pile with everything from newspapers to cocoa pods, mango peels to sea urchin shells. It’s going to be some fantastically rich material.

In order to feed the vegetables as they emerge from the ground, I also create a barrel of fermenting cow manure/nitrogen-fixer tea I can pour down the rows with a watering can (this is another trick from my book that allows you to stretch a limited amount of material across a large area before your compost piles get established).


I made sure to cover the standing water to keep mosquitoes from breeding, then possibly infecting us with Zika (which somewhat of a risk here and there across the region), dengue fever, malaria, Chikungunya or some other horrible tropical disease.

Behind the main garden beds I dug three more around the base of an established moringa tree, making sure to angle them against the slope so as to block erosion during the rainy season:


We just planted these with cabbages, hot peppers and more cabbages.

I like cabbages. They make me plant them every year.

We have bamboo growing down the hill by the river, so I took some to make a trellis for some climbing purple-podded Roma beans we brought from the United States:


I love the purple stems on the beans.

Finally, I had to dig some of my melon pits (you can see me create a ridiculous melon pit in the Compost Everything movie) and plant some Seminole Pumpkins:


I’ll bet they’re the first Seminole pumpkins in the country. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Thus far we’ve also planted pimento peppers, bell peppers, Scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, beets, spinach, carrots, bush beans, cassava, watermelons, sweet potatoes, yams, pigeon peas and Missouri corn cob pipe corn.

I can’t wait to see how everything grows in this very different climate. We can plant basically year round since we’re on the mountainside and the weather never gets too hot or too cold. The only limitation is rainfall – and we can overcome that with irrigation.

I’ll post more photos as the gardens grow and mature.

Storing Produce Without a Root Cellar

storing sweet potatoes without a root cellar

Sweet potatoes keep well without a root cellar

How do you preserve food in a warm climate without a root cellar?

I got this comment recently on the sweet potato survival plant profile page:

Being only years in Florida, storage of food has been difficult…potatoes, onions, squash and now I have sweet potatoes growing. Any tips for storing these guys?? -Chris

You bet. Here are three tips for storing produce without a root cellar.

1. Grow Produce That Keeps Without Refrigeration


This may sound obvious, but by selecting crops that keep easily you can bypass the need to can/preserve/store/refrigerate your harvests.

Some good choices are nuts, Seminole Pumpkins and other long-keeping squash, dry beans, grain corn and pigeon peas. The reason grains became preeminent in the Western diet is because of their exceptional keeping qualities. Though I generally don’t recommend you grow grains on a home scale, they can keep a long time.

Sweet potatoes and white potatoes will usually keep in bags, baskets or boxes in a pantry for a few months. I’ve had poor luck storing homegrown garlic and onions in Florida, however. The varieties that grow here just don’t seem to be made for storage.


2. Grow Produce That Keeps In The Ground



Malanga keeps well in the ground

I grow cassava, arrowroot, ginger, malanga and other root crops that can be harvested pretty much whenever you feel like pulling them. The roots don’t freeze during the winter so you can grab ’em when you want ’em. I’ve pulled cassava roots from the ground in February.

Though the top of the plant was destroyed by frost, the roots were perfectly fine beneath the soil.


3. Skip The Root Cellar By Preserving


AtHomeCanningKendraLynneMy friend and fellow blogger Kendra Lynne has a whole video on home canning that’s worth checking out:

I taught myself to can at home via some trial and error and shattered mason jars.
Some foods are worth canning and some probably aren’t.For instance, okra would be disgusting canned, unless you made it into pickles first. Speaking of pickles, one of my favorite way to preserve produce is by live fermenting them. WildFermentationCoverIf you can make sauerkraut, you can make dill pickles… pickled garlic… kimchi and all kinds of other great live fermented foods. Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation really got me started with the crazy world of fermented foods.You can read more on how I make sauerkraut in this post.Another way to pack away the harvest is to learn to dehydrate.You can dehydrate with the sun in some climates (Florida’s rain in the late summer REALLY doesn’t help me) as Paul Wheaton shows off in this awesome video:


Since it’s too humid here for me to get away with a nifty solar dehydrator, I use a simple Nesco model that works quite well.

You can go crazy and get the awesome Excalibur dehydrator (believe me… I’ve been really tempted but my budget won’t allow it!!!) but for the little bit of dehydrating we do on our homestead, my model is good enough for now.

When you dehydrate foods they keep a lot of their nutrition.

I’ve dehydrated everything from mushrooms to strawberries, mangoes (dangerously addicting) to calamondins (horrid when dried). I’ve also made jerky in the dehydrator that’s been wonderful. You can also pack away a lot of dried foods in a small space since water makes up so much of the mass of most fruits and vegetables.

I cut produce into small sizes, dry them, then pack them in sealed mason jars to keep the moisture in the air from getting in.



Though we may long for a Florida root cellar… it’s better to just be contented. Hey – we can garden year-round here when the folks up north are shivering.

I’ll take that over a row of crisp root-cellar turnips any day.


If anyone has any more suggestions on preserving the harvest without a root cellar, let me know in the comments!

I got my first tattoo!!!


I’ve been thinking for a long time about how I could express my gardening enthusiasm in a tattoo.

I’ve never gotten a tattoo before since it always seemed a bit trashy; however, I figured something botanical would work.

Heck, it could even be classy. Botanical prints are all the rage in interior design – why not in tattoos?

The more I thought about getting a plant-related tattoo, the more I liked the idea.

My big dilemma, of course, was – which plant should I feature?

I toyed around with chaya, though that could be mistaken for a maple leaf and I didn’t want folks to think I was Canadian.

I also thought about sweet potatoes, figs, mulberries or even a Chickasaw plum illustration with the Latin name beneath it.

The Florida Food Forests loquat logo was also in the race but I decided against it. I’m always changing my business ideas and didn’t want to get trapped in what might later seem to be a bad decision.

Fortunately, a great idea came to me at last… and it happened where many of my good ideas arrive: outdoors amongst my plants.

As I was wandering through the food forest last week and checking out all the new growth, I almost tripped over the stump of one of my multi-year-old cassava plants and then noticed the lush new growth coming up from the ground.

I thought, “Man… I love these plants!”

And then it hit me: cassava!

That was it!

It was the first perennial vegetable I ever grew seriously, plus it’s just a lot of fun to grow.

I made my decision – and yesterday I pulled the trigger!


cassava tattoo
Yeah, it hurt. Still totally worth it.

Isn’t that great? Rob (my tattoo artist) did a killer job on the details… it almost looks like you could pick the leaf right off my arm.

When I went down to the tattoo place one of my friends recommended (thank you, Joel!), I figured they’d have no idea what a cassava leaf looked like.

Imagine my surprise when I saw it featured in many of their designs.

It wasn’t like there was just a few tiny images in a book, either – cassava leaf designs were EVERYWHERE.

There was a picture of one gal with cassava leaves all over her back, carried by flying cherubs… there was another one where a caterpillar was smoking a hookah while sitting on a huge cassava leaf (probably an after-dinner smoke… my favorite hookah tobacco tastes like apples, though who knows which flavor caterpillars prefer); there was even one guy who had a picture of a gigantic cassava leaf floating above a sunset.

Seriously – there’s a LOT of cassava love going on. I honestly had no idea that the tattoo crowd was that into growing tropical staple root crops. It really gives me a lot of hope for the future of perennial vegetables in our nation – I’m going to have to get connected with the local tat conventions and see if I can score some cuttings of different varieties we can test on the homestead.

I know – getting a tattoo is a big deal, and maybe I’m an idiot for doing it… but I don’t really think so. I’m proud of my cassava plants and am quite glad I found a botanical image I can live with for the rest of my life.

I hope you dig it as much as I do. Manihot esculenta forever!

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Growing cassava, a reliable staple for subtropical gardeners


Here’s my latest entry for Mother Earth News – an ode to growing cassava:

As a side note on today’s article: one thing people always worry about with cassava is the cyanide.

Relax. Take a deep breath. There’s cyanide in a lot of different plants, including some of our most common edibles. With proper preparation, there’s no need to worry. It’s not like you’re going to kick off like a double-crossed super-villain if you eat a piece of raw cassava, either. It’s not that toxic. Also – the leaves are safe for your compost. During fermentation, boiling, composting, or even drying, the cyanide precursors off gas harmlessly into the atmosphere.

I’ve also fed limited amounts of cassava leaves to goats as a de-wormer. Amazing stuff.

For a a look at growing cassava as a survival crop, click here.

Keeping cassava cuttings through the winter


Since we’re not in the tropics, keeping cassava cuttings alive through the winter so you can plant them again the next year isn’t always easy.

Last week, my friend rycamor sent me an e-mail about his successful method:

“It looks like my black bag methodology is sound. Had this
loosely-knotted bag in the garage since first freeze, and look at it
now. All damp and rooty. Planting them today.”

cassava cuttings

Cassava cuttings survived the winter in this trash bag

Nice work. My bet is the trash bag kept the canes from drying out… they certainly look lively, don’t they? We’re in uncharted territory as American cassava growers – it’s not like you’ll find growing info in the Burpee catalog. Experiments like these are vital.

For more on cassava, check out their survival plant profile.

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