Harvesting the tapioca plant – How to harvest a tapioca plant

Do you like tapioca pudding? Have you ever wondered where tapioca comes from? Personally, I am not a fan of tapioca at all, but I can tell you that tapioca is a starch that is extracted from the root of a plant called Yucca or Cassava ( Manihot esculenta ), or simply from the tapioca plant. In fact, tapioca is just one of the many different delights that can be created using the roots of a cassava plant. Cassava requires at least 8 months of frost-free time to produce roots, so it is an ideal crop for those living in USDA zones 8 to 11. It is easy to grow and harvesting tapioca roots is also fairly easy. So the questions that arise are: how to harvest a tapioca plant and when to harvest the tapioca root? Let’s find out, shall we?

When to harvest tapioca root

Roots can be harvested, cooked and eaten as soon as they are formed, but if you are looking for a large enough crop, you can wait a little. Some early cassava cultivars can be harvested as early as 6-7 months after planting. Most varieties of cassava, however, are usually round in size and can be harvested at about 8-9 months.

You can leave cassava in the soil for up to two years, but remember that the roots will become hard, woody and fibrous towards the end of this period. It is best to harvest the tapioca plant in the first year or so.

Before harvesting the cassava plant in its entirety, it is advisable to inspect one of its deep brown flaky roots to see if it is desirable for you, not only in terms of size but also from a culinary point of view. Using a palette, gently dig a hole next to the plant. Your search will be made easier by the fact that cassava roots can usually be found in the first few inches of soil and tend to grow down and away from the main stem.

When you discover a root, try to massage the soil of the root with your hands to expose it. Cut the root where the neck of the sticks tapers from the stem of the plant. Boil your yucca root and give it a taste test. If the taste and texture are favorable, you are ready to harvest the tapioca plant! And don’t forget to boil, because the boiling process removes toxins that are present in the raw form.

How to harvest a tapioca plant

A typical cassava plant can produce 4 to 8 individual roots or tubers, with each tuber up to 8 to 15 cm (20 to 38 cm) long and 1 to 4 cm (2.5 to 10 cm) wide. When harvesting tapioca roots, try to do so without damaging the roots. Damaged tubers produce a healing agent, coumaric acid, which oxidizes and blackens the tubers a few days after harvest.

Before harvesting the tapioca roots, cut off the stem of the cassava one foot off the ground. The remaining part of the stem that protrudes from the ground will be useful for extracting the plant. Aerate the soil around and under the plant with a long-handled spoon fork – just make sure that the insertion points of your spoon fork do not invade the space of the tubers, as you do not want to damage them.

You can continue to work the plant to detach it from the ground, gently moving the main stem back and forth, up and down, until you feel the plant begin to detach itself from the ground. Using the garden fork to help lift and anchor the plant from below, grasp the main stem and pull it up. Hopefully you will have removed the entire plant, with its root system, intact.

At this stage, the tubers can be removed by hand from the base of the plant. Freshly harvested cassava roots must be consumed or processed within four days of harvest before they begin to deteriorate. Tapioca, anyone?

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