I have a manual of Minor Vegetables printed by IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service, originally in 1988, but my copy is arevised edition from 2004. Minor vegetables are the less known, less common, “miscellaneous” crops. According to the introduction in the manual, “Florida’s mild climate presents an opportunity to grow a wide assortment of vegetables, including not only the well-known types, but many other minor varieties. Information on the major vegetables is extensive, both from a state and a national perspective. On the other hand, much less attention has been given to the minor vegetables, particularly with respect to the adaptability of these crops to Florida conditions”. This manual represents an attempt to provide information on the so-called “miscellaneous” vegetables.
I’ve used the manual over the past few years to experiment with alternative crops in search for replacements to some of the crops we are used to eating, but are difficult or impossible to produce in South Florida. I’m also interested in summer crops, or at least crops that take advantage of summer months for vegetative growth. Jicama (pronounced “hecama) is one such recent experiment. After reading about the potential for good production in South Florida I looked for seeds, which, as is common with most minor vegetables, are very hard to find. ECHO in Ft. Meyer’s had them, but in small quantities, so I bought a packet and planted them last August, with the intention to save seeds for this year, paying close attention to the life cycle, pest resistance and other relevant horticultural factors.
Sure enough the legume vines grew vigorously, blooming in November and producing clusters of large lima bean-shaped pods. From what I read in the manual and other web sources, it takes 5 to 6 months for the turnip shaped edible roots to get big enough for harvest. I also read that removing flowers would enhance root yields, but since the seeds are what I’m after I skipped that step. Here we are in February and the vines recently began to dry up and wither, leaving almost bare branches heavy with seed pods at every tip. I collected the pods and proceeded to dig up the roots.
Each plant yielded one root, varying drastically in size, most likely due to a combination of soil conditions, watering and crowdedness with neighboring plants. Despite having skipped the pruning step, some of the roots were as big as I’d ever want them, weighing almost 3 pounds each.
When peeled and sliced they are very tasty, crispy, sweet and bitter at the same time. My test included about a dozen plants, which produced way more than enough seeds for next years crop. The last step of the experiment will be to test the germination rate of my seeds before committing to a substantial portion of field this August.