Jicama, also known as yam bean, is a tropical plant grown for its crisp, sweet root that can be eaten raw or cooked. This vine is native to Central and South America, will grow to around 15′ in length, and requires a trellis or support to keep it happy. Note that it takes a long time for jicama to grow its root, which is dug up in the fall after 9 months of warm and frost-free weather; as such, it generally cannot be grown outdoors in the US except in southern Florida and parts of southern California. If you live in a temperate climate, you can grow jicama indoors or in a greenhouse. Jicama is a legume, with white or purple flowers, lima-bean-shaped seed pods, and deep green leaves. Take note: only eat the flesh of the root because the rest of the plant is toxic.
The jicama de Leche (for you non-Spanish speakers, leche means ‘milk’ en español) produces an irregularly shaped tuber that produces white juice when cut that looks similar to milk—hence its name. This varietal is similar in flavor to the more popular varietal, Jicama de Agua; however, the de Agua varietal is considered slightly sweeter than the de Leche. If growing your jicama outdoors, note that while you may get your tubers to grow, they’ll likely be smaller than the roots found in the grocery store as conditions in Central American and Mexico are better suited for growing this plant.
Seed: Soak seeds in water overnight before planting for best germination rates.
Seed Depth: 2–3″
Space Between Plants: 4–6″. Thin to 8–10″.
Space Between Rows: 30–48″
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–85°F
Days for Germination: 12–18
Sow Indoors: 8–10 weeks before average last frost date or even earlier in regions with a short growing season. Transplant outside once soil temperatures are at least 70°F.
Sow Outdoors: At any time in tropical climates. Not recommended in climates where there is less than 9 months of warm and frost-free weather.
Vegetative: Can be grown from whole roots of the previous year’s plant. This can result in a shorter growing season and quicker harvest time, so we recommend this method if you have a short growing season.
Grows best in tropical or subtropical climates. Jicama will not tolerate frost but can thrive as a perennial in USDA zones 10–12 or as an annual crop started indoors in cooler regions. Protect plants from early fall frosts to delay your harvest and improve yields.
Natural: Full sun. Tuber production is affected by day length and will only begin once daylight begin to shorten in the fall.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent lamps when plants are young. Switch to an HID lamp for maximum tuber production.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy or sandy soil. Keep tubers fully covered with soil. Will tolerate a wide range of soil pH.
Soilless: Start seeds in a mixture of coco coir, well-rotted manure, and perlite.
Hydroponics: Not much is known about growing jicama hydroponically. If you want to give it a try, be sure to let us know how it goes!
Water: Requires low to moderate levels of water. Soil should be kept moist, but not wet, since too much water can cause roots to rot.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. In particular, a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium and lower in nitrogen will be most beneficial.
Foliar: Will benefit from a foliar feeding of liquid seaweed once per month during the growing season.
Pruning: Removing flowers before they produce seeds can cause increased root yields. Pinch back the growing tips of longer branches to promote a more bushy form.
Mulching: Use mulch to suppress weeds.
Support: The long vines of the jicama plant should be trained to grow up a trellis to save space in the garden. You can create an archway or arbor to get dual benefits from the plant: both food and a shady place to hang out!
Pest(s): Rarely bothered by pests, since the aboveground portions of the plant are toxic. Still, watch for:
Disease(s): This plant is not susceptible to many diseases, although you may experience troubles if the soil is kept too wet. Watch for:
Deficiency(s): A potassium deficiency may result in reduced yields.
Rotation: If growing as an annual, rotate to a new area of the garden every year. If growing as a perennial, move plants every 3 years.
Companions: Grows well with prickly pear cactus, beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and eggplant.
Harvest: Wait to dig up the roots until just before the first frost for the largest harvest. Plants can take 5–9 months to reach their full productivity, although if you must harvest earlier due to frost, you can still get some small roots. If growing in the tropics, root production will happen year-round, but the shortening days of the fall lead to the most production. Dig up roots carefully and allow to dry before gently dusting off any remaining soil.
Storage: The ideal storage temperature will be between 50 and 60°F. Do not refrigerate, as this will cause damage. Roots can store for up to 2 months in a cool, dark place.
Fun Fact: While jicama is usually harvested when it’s around 5 pounds in weight, if left alone for long enough, the tubers can reach up to 50 lbs! That’s one big veggie!
Preserve: Can be made into a range of canned products, including pickes, relish, or slaw. Can be either vinegar pickled or brined and fermented.
Prepare: The tubers must be peeled before consuming. Serve in salads or as a raw, snackable vegetable. Taste and texture are somewhat reminiscent of water chestnut or bamboo shoots. Mix in with a stir fry, boil and mash for a mashed potato alternative, or marinate in oil and lime juice.
Nutritional: Provides high levels of vitamin C as well as some potassium, iron, and dietary fiber. Low in calories.
Medicinal: The high levels of vitamin C and dietary fiber provide health benefits, particularly to the digestive and immune systems.
Warnings: Do not consume any of the above ground portions of the plant, which contain the toxin rotenone. Tubers should always be peeled before eating.
This Jicama and Melon Salad is packed with nutrients and tasty flavors that make for a refreshing and invigorating breakfast dish or even a beautiful and tasty dessert.
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