Propagate Yams the Easy Way with Yam Minisetts

yam-minisetts-ready-for-planting

Grab yourself a big root, a knife and some ashes… it’s time to propagate yams!

Also see the CARDICaribbean video on propagating yams here:

Though I pick on the method in my video because I’m not a fan of soaking yams in pesticides or herbicides, it’s a fine presentation with good information otherwise.

Propagating Yams in Three Steps

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This is the minisett method of yam propagation. If you have bulbils, you can just use those; however, some yam species don’t make bulbils or you may be starting with a store-bought yam and don’t want to plant the whole thing. A good-sized yam can get you a dozen or more plants if you divide it well.

Step 1: Divide the Yam

To propagate yams from minisetts, get a fresh yam and cut it into pieces while ensuring you have a good piece of skin on each one from which the new growth will emerge.

making yam minisetts for yam propagation

You can cut the yam pieces even smaller than I cut them in the video. Half that size will still work. Larger pieces will give you stronger vines, however, so there’s a balance between getting more plants and getting more vigorous plants.

Step 2: Dip the Pieces in Ashes

Dip the cut pieces of yam in ashes and let them dry a bit.

dipping yam minisetts in ashes for propagating yams

Ashes seem to help heal the wound and protect it from infection. It’s a traditional method practiced in places where yams are grown. Pieces will also grow without ashes, but it’s an easy step so I follow it.

Step 3: Plant Your Yams

It’s important to plant yams in loose soil as they are a root crop.

In Florida sand I just dug a little hold and buried them and they’d get nice and big; however, in clay it’s important to loosen lots of space to give the roots a place to grow.

yam-bed

If you like, you can plant your yam minisetts in a big pot or a bed to ensure you only get ones that will sprout. When the vines start popping out from the ground, transfer your yams to where you would like them to grow – and don’t wait long – the vines will grow fast and become a big tangle if you don’t act quickly.

Ensure each yam has a solid stick they can climb. Shoot for 6-7′ tall poles or ever larger.

This is how I cut stakes:

Alternately, yams can be grown on fences or on trees.

More On Yam Propagation

Yam bulbils will also work for planting if you have access to them; however, not all Dioscorea species will make bulbils.

Note: I have successfully propagated Dioscorea alata from cuttings, but I don’t think that method will give you good yields, at least in the first year. If you can’t get roots or bulbils, go for it, though.

Usually it’s just easier to propagate yams by cutting big roots up into minisetts. Try your local ethnic market for yams and other treasures.

With the potato yam, just use entire roots from the cluster without cutting them into pieces, as that is supposed to work better.

Potato-yam-dioscorea

Here are the buckets (and a bag) of cut-up yams we planted, plus the still-intact potato yams:

yam pieces ready to plant yam minisetts

Now it’s time to cut stakes!

Discover more on yams in my survival plant profile.

I also cover yams as a crop in my books Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening and Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

Some recent reviews of Grow or Die:

grow-or-die-reviews

Though tropical yams won’t work in colder climates, temperate gardeners will have luck with the Chinese yam, AKA Dioscorea batatas.

Have fun – yams are a wonderful staple crop with good flavor and beautiful vines.

David-the-good-books-revised

Potato Yams

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A remarkable yam variety was given to me a few days ago by a friend:

Potato-yam-dioscorea

Those are potato yams, AKA “the lesser yam.” They are not sweet potatoes, but a true yam that which in clusters. Its Latin name is Dioscorea esculenta.

The potato yam grows a cluster of roots around a small, central “head” from which the main vine emerges. Each of these roots can be cut off and planted to create a new cluster of roots.

Unlike the greater yam, the lesser yam has very tender skin which can be eaten. The tubers cook rapidly and can be used like a white potato.

All of the roots in the photo above (save two) were planted in beds yesterday. The two I kept back we’re going to eat so we can see how they taste.

It’s a lot of fun finding new vegetable varieties. You can see more of these yams in my latest video:

Tomorrow I hope to post another video on yam propagation.

We planted buckets of yam roots yesterday morning, hacking great big beds into the hillside down by the river. It was brutal work but very satisfying.

David-the-good-books-revised

Edible Dioscorea bulbifera – Varieties and Info!

EdibleDioscoreaBulbifera2

Eric Toensmeier mentions edible Dioscorea bulbifera in at least one of his books.

Yet the D. bulbifera growing all over my home state of Florida were anything but edible. Known as “air potatoes,” these guys can mess you up.

According to Infogalactic:

“Uncultivated forms, such as those found growing wild in Florida, can be poisonous. These varieties contain the steroid diosgenin, which is a principal material used in the manufacture of a number of synthetic steroidal hormones, such as those used in hormonal contraception.[6] There have been claims[7] that even the wild forms are rendered edible after drying and boiling, leading to confusion over actual toxicity.”

Yet there are definitely edible versions.

In a video from 2015, I show off a beautiful bulbil I was given by a friend:

The cultivated forms of D. bulbifera really have a lot of potential as a food crop, due to their ease of growing and harvest. Picking roots from the air is a lot better than digging.

As I dug for more info, I found that gardener Jerry Coleby-Williams has a good article with photos of edible Dioscorea bulbifera varieties he’s growing in Australia.

His look quite different from the variety featured in the video above.

Here’s a shot of that crazy angular type:

EdibleDioscoreaBulbifera2

Very weird.

The two edible Dioscorea bulbifera bulbils I was given this last week look quite different from each other.

The first one looks like it may be the type above, though this is a much smaller bulbil:

edible dioscorea bulbifera

The second one I was given looks rather like some of the wild toxic forms I saw in Florida:

edible dioscorea bulbifera

That doesn’t mean it is toxic, however – looks aren’t important. The diosgenin content is. If it tastes bitter after cooking, chances are it’s not a good one.

Varieties of Edible Dioscorea bulbifera

Back in December Grower Jim did a write-up on some of the edible Dioscorea bulbifera types on his site. He writes:

“There are a few different cultivated varieties in circulation; ‘Hawaii’ has dark, rounded tubers with a bumpy skin and glossy sheen. ‘Africa’ has gray, angular tubers with a rougher texture.”

Click over to his site to see the photos and read the article.

“Hawaii” looks like a less bumpy version of my second edible Dioscorea bulbifera bulbil.

Here’s the video I made yesterday showing both of my edible D. bulbifera bulbils, plus how I planted them:

It seems there are quite a few types of D. bulbifera.

If we are blessed with a good growing year and a harvest, I will taste-test these carefully. One farmer told me that you need to leave the bulbils out on a counter for a while before eating to get rid of the bitterness.

I’ll try that and also cook them well, trying only a little bit the first time. I’m excited to get a chance to grow these guys and will keep you updated.

ADDENDUM

Don’t get D. bulbifera mixed up with D. alata.

Both grow wild in Florida and other locations and it’s important to not randomly harvest and eat yams. D. alata are delicious and safe – but D. bulbifera in the wild can lead to bad side effects.

Read my post on identifying edible air potatoes in the wild here.

And if you are interested in Florida gardening without work, get my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening here. I cover yams and many other super-easy crops that will get you growing piles of food in no time.

David-the-good-books-revised

The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown

MalangaRoots

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

Corn4

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

Awesome-orange-market-pumpkin

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

soursop-stinking-toe-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

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

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

MalangaRoots

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

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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

CassavaComingUp

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

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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

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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.

Conclusion

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.

 

David-the-good-books-revised

Trench-Planting Yams

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Let’s see if this works:

The clay here is very hard to dig, particularly near the house where the topsoil is thin and the clay and rocks are abundant.

A local told me to try planting yams in a trench filled with leaves and grass, so I decided to give it a try.

We’ll see how it turns out. Yams are an EXCELLENT tropical staple crop and figure prominently in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

If you live in Florida and want a solid calorie crop that produces well and takes almost no work – give yams a try. The trenching isn’t required in a sandy soil.

Just pop bulbils or minisetts in the ground and wait.

David-the-good-books-revised

In Search of Yams

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One of my favorite crops of all-time is the oft-overlooked yam.

Not these:
SweetPotatoes1

I like those, but those are sweet potatoes. They are not yams. Never call them yams.

Never.

These are yams:Huge_Yams

And those wonderful roots grow wild here in the mysterious tropical locale we now call home.

They are in the jungle, just waiting to be dug. And at this time of the year, they have produced bulbils which can be used for planting.

WingedYamBulbils

Yesterday Rachel and I took a hike down the mountainside, across the river, then up the other side into the jungle.

Hiking-instagram-yam-hunt

 

It was a combination of bulbil hunt and hard exercise.

By the way, that tall tropical grass there makes a great mulch/compost amendment/fertilizer. Cut it down and let it lay on the ground… it turns into beautiful humus and brings in lots of life.

But I digress.

This hunt for yam bulbils for planting isn’t a new thing for me.

I did it for multiple years in North Florida as well, where the exact same delicious species of yam grows in the wild, just as it does here in the tropics. The state of Florida calls it an invasive. I call it an awesome source of high-quality calories and I’m GLAD it invaded the state.

Heck with you fuddy-duddies and your invasive species lists.

All hail Dioscorea alata – the winged yam!

I love these things. They taste remarkably like a potato, though I actually think they taste a little better, and they take almost no work to grow.

If you hunt for bulbils a few months from now you aren’t likely to find any – you really only get them during the winter months when the vines have entered their dormancy cycle after fattening up the bulbils, which start falling to the ground as the vines wither. The bulbils are just aerial roots with a more entertaining name.

Snag them if you can find them, then plant now through early spring. And make the bulbil hunt fun. Rachel and I did.

True yams are one of my top staple crops and feature prominently in my popular Florida gardening book.

You can read more about them here as well.

David-the-good-books-revised

Get in Shape this New Year with YAMFIT!

yamfit

yamfit

My sister Christi spent almost a week with us and while she was here, we had to make a video together:

What says “family togetherness” better than filming a crossfit parody?

This is yam season right now and there are yams growing wild all through the jungle. When the vines start to die back, the roots are ready to dig. They’ll sit in dormancy for months, then spring back into growth sometime in the spring.

These are my old friend Dioscorea alata, though they are the white/yellow type, not the purple variety. I haven’t seen any purple ones here.

Digging yams is a pain in the clay here. You can see the trouble they give me in this recent video:

We got a good harvest, but man… the clay is thick. It’s probably better for pottery than gardening! If you want to know more about growing yams, I have an in-depth post here.

If You Don’t Think I’m Funny It’s Your Own Fault

Though I’ve been posting goofy videos for years, people still don’t seem to get my jokes.

Or that they are jokes.

This comment on my “Machete Safety” video is a case in point:

it's-a-joke

My IQ is in the top 2% of the population. At least.

If you don’t understand why I’m doing something, it may just be because you’re unable to grasp it. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all have our own gifts.

Machete Safety is a meta-narrative that works on multiple dimensions.

I claimed it was a joke – but it’s not just a joke. Though on its face it appears to be Rachel wearing my clothes and re-enacting my machete injury, in reality it’s a treatise on my fears that String Theory fails to adequately explain the physical universe.

Seriously – is it that hard to grasp that the machete represents quantum gravity? Anyone?

Of course, it’s possible that Michael’s comment was representative of perturbation theory… which would completely blow my mind. It could make sense, as the complexity of my theory might be challenged by his simplistic “not actually informative” rebuke, following the natural chain of Hamiltonian disruption.

However, the “good info mixed in with noise” sounds like the popular Chaos Theory silliness that took off after Jurassic Park instead of a rational response to my symbolic shrug in the face of the blurry edges of modern physics.

Well, you can’t win them all.

Alternately, these interchanges may occur because my sense of humor, though funny to me, simply doesn’t translate. I know a very high IQ guy who doesn’t think I’m funny at all.

I don’t care. I still giggle like a middle schooler when I put together some of these videos. I can’t tell you how much I laughed creating In Seach of Bilimbi, even though the critics panned that one.

Bilimbi_4

An alternate theory: maybe I just want to know what love is?

Seriously, though – the yamfit video is funny. Enjoy and share on Facebook.

Christi is a natural comic – let’s make that girl a star!

Have a great Monday.

David-the-good-books-revised

Updates from The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: Fall 2016

SouthFLFoodForest2015-4

Updates-south-florida-food-forest

It’s been too long since the last update on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.

Mom sent me photos from just before Hurricane Matthew limped past the coast. There was no damage after the storm but the clouds in the pictures look amazing.

First, take a look at the tropical almond (background) and the black sapote (foreground, right):

Black-sapote-tropical-almond-florida-food-forest

See that little Senna alata (AKA candlestick cassia) growing to the left of the chocolate pudding fruit tree? We planted some of those when establishing the food forest and they seem to have naturalized… all over the place.

Now take a look at the avocado seedling:

avocado-coconut-palm-florida-food-forest

It’s over 6′ tall now and is a Thai type which makes huge avocados the size of honeydew melons. It just needs to get big so it can start bearing!

Here’s another look at the chocolate pudding fruit tree:

black-sapote-south-florida-food-forest

Definitely getting taller and it looks very happy. Those are passionfruit and yam vines growing in the fence behind it.

Now check out the starfruit tree:cassava-starfruit-florida-food-forest

Mom reports that this tree produces gallons and gallons of fruit twice a year with long harvest seasons. The fruit are very good and sweet. Quite refreshing. Note the cassava on the right side of the image. The fallen sticks all over the ground are chopped-and-dropped Tithonia diversifolia stems. Great food for the soil.

Here’s a good looking chaya growing in front of the neighbor’s fence:

chaya-south-florida-food-forest

That’s the deeply lobed variety as opposed to the maple leaf type. I have both growing in The Great South Florida Food Forest.

Out in the front yard, Dad prepared for Hurricane Matthew by cutting back the acerola cherry:dad-cutting-back-acerola-cherry-florida-food-forest

That tree bears year-round and has sweet fruit. It’s been a huge blessing to my nieces and nephews, not to mention the children of the many friends who visit my parents’ place. They all love fresh-picked cherries!

Another big blessing has been the mango tree. It bears large crops of fine-fleshed wonderfully sweet orange-fleshed mangoes.

mango-chaya-southfloridafoodforest

The ferns on the ground beneath it planted themselves. I love those “accidents” of nature.

Here you can see the mango to the left, coconut palms in foreground left, moringa tree in center and the Thai avocado to the right. Yam vines (Dioscorea alata) are draping across the trees through the center.moringa-avocado-yam-mango-florida-food-forest

Now here’s a nice tree to see: the 6th Street Mulberry is flying!mulberry-south-florida-food-forest

That is going to be a lovely, multi-branched tree. It’s already been bearing fruit. Hard to believe it looked like this not long ago:

MulberryJune8-2013

Here’s a view of the profusion from the other side. Isn’t this MUCH more interesting than a lawn?south-florida-food-forest-2016-fall

Moringa, cassava, mango, yams, sunflowers, mother-in-law tongues, ferns, orchids, starfruit, bananas… it’s a lovely mess of great plants!

Here’s another view of the starfruit with the moringa on its right:starfruit-moringa-florida-food-forest

And back around to the front yard again, on the other side, to see the tamarind and the canistel:tamarind-canistel-south-florida-food-forest

That canistel is now my height (tree in foreground) and the tamarind is almost 4 times my height. I love to see them both growing happily.

If you’re interested in starting your own Florida food forest, you’ll find inspiration and lots of ideas for plant species in my little book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.

FloridaFoodForestsCoverNewBLweb

It’s also available in audiobook form, read by me.

This is a great way to use your property. As the trees mature, you get more and more fruit… for less and less work. My parents aren’t even “plant people” and they greatly enjoy seeing the trees grow and having all the extra fruit to share with friends and family.

Go for it – you have nothing to lose but your boring grass!

David-the-good-books-revised
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