Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a tropical root that is eaten around the world. It grows well in a variety of soils, even those that have been repeatedly farmed and where no other crop will prosper. These carbohydrate-laden tubers are easy to cultivate and are a staple for over 600 million people worldwide.
Botanists use seeds for breeding and root selection because seed germination is difficult; only about 50 percent sprout. Cuttings have at least one node (where leaves emerge) and are buried vertically, flat or tilted. Which way they are inserted in the soil depends on weather conditions and planting method (machine or hand).
After planting, roots will appear in as little as three days. New shoots will be noticeable as well. Maintenance of weed growth is imperative at this point so they do not choke off the new plant. Cassava roots grow slowly at first, but within a couple of months, the plant's leaves will provide enough shade to prevent weeds. Cassava can be interspersed with corn, legumes or oil palm to reduce the danger of crop damage from pests.
Technically, there is no "mature stage" for cassava because harvesting occurs at variable times. For food usage, the crop is harvested when the root has achieved the size the consumer delegates, usually before the plant is a year old. The cassava can spend more than one season underground in tropical regions but a portion may become inedible the longer the tubers grow. These plants are used for their starch content in textiles and for packing materials.
The leaves and upper part of the cassava plant are removed before harvesting begins. This enables the harvester to easily grab the visible stem and pull the roots from the ground. Once removed from the soil, the roots are separated from the root base. This is all done by hand as machines may damage the roots which can casue the tubers to degrade quickly. The cuttings for the next crop are selected during harvest as well.
The shelf life of the cassava varies depending on the harvesting method and treatment. Harvesting cassava by removing the leaves two weeks prior provides a shelf life of two weeks. If the leaves are not pulled, the cassava will spoil within three days. The small extra effort is well worth it in terms of economics. Roots are preserved by coating them in wax and storing them in plastic bags. This increases their life to three to four weeks. Roots can also be peeled and frozen.
- Photo Credit prilfish/Flickr.com
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