Jun 13, 2011

Growing Manioc

I promised in an earlier post to comment on my experience growing manioc (casava or yuca). Since coming to Costa Rica 6 months ago I have planted four manioc plants in my back yard. It has been an interesting experience watching them grow.
I have always grown a vegetable garden at my home in the United States.  As a result I am familiar with the techniques used to grow most temperate climate vegetables. However I was completely unfamiliar with the practices used to grow manioc. Fortunately I was befriended by one of the local ward members here who is an experienced farmer. He showed me how to take the stalk from a harvested manioc plant, cut it into short sections, and partially cover it with earth. These are planted about 2 feet apart at the top of ridges of loose, well worked soil. Then they must by patiently watered until they begin to sprout from the old leaf nodes (this was during the dry season). The sprouts on each plant are thinned to one or two shoots once they are growing good. The plant should be tended regularly keeping the soil loose around the base of the plant, but being careful not to injure the roots or the forming tubers. It takes approximately six months to one year for the plant to reach maturity and form a full set of tubers. When the plant is approaching maturity, the lower branches should be thinned to encourage root growth. However, according to the local tradition, the branches should be broken off and not cut with an iron tool. I asked why, but my friend did not know the reason; probably an old tradition.
So far my plants are growing lustily and are up to 6 feet tall. There do not seem to be any natural enemies to the manioc. It is growing so fast that it easily dominates any weeds growing nearby. In another 3 months I will check and see if any tubers have formed.
My other gardening experiences have not been as favorable. Attempting to grow American sweet corn was a disaster. The plants didn't mature properly and only got to be 18 inches tall. They formed rudimentary ears, but the plants almost seemed to revert to a primitive genetic ancestor of modern corn.
My zuchinni, which is so easy to grow in the US, started out wonderfully. But then after two months was attacked by a voracious worm which ate all the leaf stems from the inside out. I am on my second batch of zuchinni which I am heavily spraying with insecticide.
Carrots are doing so-so. My peppers were growing and producing marvelously, until I accidently over-fertilized them and stunted their growth. The tomatoes all have gotten wilt. I need to get some wilt restistant varieties. 
The camote (a type of sweet potato) is very easy and grows well. Unfortunately the local squirrels think the camote leaves are candy and keep mowing off the tops.
All in all, it has been an interesting experience trying to grow a garden in a tropical climate. It certainly helps having someone who has had years of experience. The local farmers seem to do well. One man I have met grows lettuce for a living.  He is able to get twelve crops of lettuce a year-one advantage of not have winter.   

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