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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@ The Prepper Project: Two Must-Have Survival Crops


Want to put a big bank of calories in the ground? I’ve got a new post over at The Prepper Project that tells you how – click on over and check it out:

There are very few similarities between these two
plants. One is in the sunflower family… the other is in the spurge family. One bears roots year-round… one does not. One has pretty flowers… the other has graceful canes and palmate leaves. They do have a few notable places where they overlap, however.

1. Both grow like weeds and produce in less-than-ideal conditions.
2. Both produce an abundance of calories.
3. Both are tall plants and not readily recognizable as food sources.
4. Both will mess you up if you don’t prepare them right. 

5. Both are exceptional survival crops.
6. Both are bothered by very few pests.
7. Both are excellent chicken/pig feed.


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.

You can’t grow that here! You can’t do that! It won’t work!


I laugh when people tell me one of my gardening ideas is impossible. Sure… some things are almost impossible. For instance, it would be really hard to grow Bing cherries here. Not totally impossible – but really hard. (To pull it off, you’d need a walk-in freezer, some shade cloth, a good timer, a very large pot and a lot of time on your hands. But I digress…)

I’ve heard this is too far north to grow good cassava. WRONG
I’ve been told that many seeds won’t grow into good fruit trees. WRONG
I’ve learned from experts not to compost meat, paper, etc. WRONG

Anyhow – you get the idea. Just because it’s supposedly impossible doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off. My experiments with microclimates have been very informative. I learned exactly how far out from my south wall I could plant zone 10 species before the frost claimed them (about 18″). I’m now growing tropical plants without cover outside in North Florida… thanks to the thermal mass of my house.

My experiments with planting corn directly into ruts cut in my lawn were a complete failure. But I learned from it. Now I’ve started my new “melon pit” experiments.

I started about 50 peaches from pits I took from the fruit of a Tropic Beauty tree and planted them in pots and around my yard. Will they live without the all-important “Nema-guard” rootstock? We’ll find out. (UPDATE: The answer is YES)

Look – the key to growing is constant experimentation and observation. Think like a scientist. Plant multiple varieties in multiple places at multiple times of the year for multiple different years. What worked? What didn’t?

Would you believe this? I have a tropical papaya seedling growing in my front-yard food forest. It’s seen multiple frosts down into the 20s and doesn’t show a touch of damage. Meanwhile, I have other large trees out back that have lost their entire tops and even had their trunks turn to mush. Why is that? Genetics? Microclimate? Canopy cover? I don’t know yet… but I’ll see if it stays alive and what happens this next year. If it fruits and keeps living, I’ll plant the seeds and see if they’ve inherited some cold hardiness.
If I had followed the standard advice, I would’ve never planted papayas

I’ve seen tropical avocados, papaya, guava and mangoes growing in a miniature food forest in Polk County. It freezes there and these plants don’t die. Because they’re tight together and tended by an old missionary who I believe has some sort of special favor from God… they live and fruit. THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!

Remember the rules. Go ahead and repeat them to yourself until they’re meaningless. Then laugh and go throw more seeds around. Do something impossible. The rules can be bent… nature is resilient… and you never know until you try… sometimes many times.

Survival Plant Profile: Cassava – King of Staples


Are you looking to buy cassava cuttings?

Find them here!

Inside the US, cassava is generally unknown except among some ethnic minorities.

Yet it’s where tapioca comes from (or “fish eyes,” as my Uncle Stuart calls them) and has been used as a source of laundry starch.

The roots are really, really high in starch.

Growing to about 12’ tall, the cassava plant looks very tropical.

Its palmate leaves and graceful cane-like branches are attractive in the landscape or in the garden.

Cassava’s pseudonyms include yuca (with one “c,” NOT two – “yucca” is a completely unrelated species), manioc, the tapioca plant, and manihot.

In Latin science-speak, it’s Manihot escuelenta.Whatever you call it, it’s a serious staple crop. Virtually pest-free, drought tolerant, loaded with calories, capable of good growth in poor soil – cassava is a must-have anyplace it can grow.And it’s MUCH less work than grain and much more tolerant of harvest times. In fact, once it’s hit maturity, you can basically dig it at any point for a few years (though the roots may sometimes get too woody to eat).

But there is a caveat on cultivation: cassava doesn’t like cold. At all.

If temperatures drop to freezing, your cassava will freeze to the ground.

This won’t usually kill the plant, but it does mean you need to plan your growing accordingly. In the tropics, cassava is a perennial, capable of growing huge roots and living for years.

Here in Florida the plant does well until you get north of zone 10, then the occasional frosts will knock it down. Growing it at any zone beyond 8 is likely an exercise in futility. Cassava needs warm days and nights to make good roots.

And speaking of roots… the cassava’s roots contain roughly twice the calories of a comparable serving of potatoes.

Bonus: they’re easier to grow.

Of course, there is the cyanide to consider.


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

Yes – cyanide.

The plant is full of it, from its lovely leaves to its tasty roots. Fortunately, boiling or fermenting gets 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’s pretty tame.

Microwaveable burritos, for instance.

How to Grow Cassava

Now – moving beyond the cyanide – how do you grow these things?

Unlike many plants, cassava is not usually grown from seeds except for breeding purposes. The only way most folks grow it is via stem cuttings.
(Roots from the grocery store almost definitely won’t work since they’ve been separated from the stem and dipped in wax.)

To grow from fresh cuttings, chop a sturdy stem into pieces about 1.5’ long, stick them in the ground on their sides about two inches down
and cover them lightly with soil – or, as I plant them, stuck in vertically with the growth buds pointing up – and within a week or so they’ll be growing new leaves.

I demonstrate how to plant cassava in this short video:

6-12 months later (depending on care and rainfall), they’ll be ready to start harvesting.

To harvest, machete down the entire plant a foot or so from the ground, throw the branches to the side and start digging.

Be careful, though – the roots are easy to chop through. Some careful exploratory digging with a trowel is often a good idea. 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. Don’t dig them too long before you’re going to process them as cassava doesn’t store well at all.

Once you harvest the roots, you’ll want to chop up the rest of the plant to make a new set of canes for planting out. I snap off all the leaves and compost them, then cut the bare canes into planting size. Canes that are too green tend to rot rather than root, so throw them on the compost too.

Sturdy, 1-2” diameter canes are perfect.

Plant them a third of their length or so into the ground and stand back so the new growth doesn’t knock you over. Just don’t plant them upside-down.

Ensure they’re right side up by looking for the tiny little growth buds by the leaf bases (or where the leaves were before they hit the compost bin). That little dot should be above the leaf’s base, not below.

Preparing the roots is another post for another day.


Peeled cassava roots

The Cassava plant is a must-have in warm climates, but even at the edge of its natural range you can push it.

You can bury cut canes in a box beneath the ground for the winter, as a Cuban friend told me her family does… you can let your current plants freeze to the ground and just wait for spring to bring new growth back… you can put cuttings in pots and bring them inside on freezing nights, then plant out in spring… or you can get a greenhouse and always keep a few plants in there for propagative stock.

It’s pretty tough stuff.

And as for work, the worst part is the harvesting. View it like digging for treasure and it’s fun.

Here’s my video on harvesting cassava:

Another great thing about this plant: its leaves are also edible (boiled, of course – remember… CYANIDE!) and rich in nutrients.

The young leaves are best and remind me of a drier-tasting collard green.

Not bad. At harvest time I usually grab a few baskets’ worth for the table or the freezer.

The roots can be chopped and frozen raw as well – they keep quite well that way.

Start learning this plant. It’s literally a lifesaving staple in Africa.

You can find cassava cuttings for sale here on ebay.

Survival Plant Profile
Name: Cassava, (Yuca)
Latin Name: Manihot escuelenta
Type: Woody shrub, perennial
Part Used: Leaves, roots
Propagation: Cuttings
Taste: Good
Storability: Poor unless frozen, dried or fermented
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Roots – low. Leaves – good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low