Jicama, also known as Mexican turnip or yam bean, is a root vegetable that is gaining popularity in the culinary world due to its crisp texture and sweet, nutty flavor. Native to Central and South America, jicama is a versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed raw or cooked in a variety of dishes.
If you’re interested in growing your own jicama, this guide will provide you with detailed instructions on how to cultivate and care for this unique vegetable. From selecting the right variety to preparing the soil and harvesting, we will cover every aspect of growing jicama successfully.
What is Jicama?
Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) is a root vegetable that belongs to the legume family. It is characterized by its bulbous, turnip-like shape and tan-colored, rough outer skin. The inner flesh of jicama is white and crispy, similar to the texture of an apple or water chestnut. Jicama is often eaten raw in salads, slaws, or as a crunchy snack.
Varieties of Jicama
There are several varieties of jicama available, each with its own unique characteristics. The most common variety is the “Criolla” or “Mexican” jicama, which has a round shape and is typically the size of a large potato. Other popular varieties include “Jicama de Agua” and “Jicama de Leche.” It’s important to select a variety that is suitable for your growing region and personal preferences.
Nutritional Benefits of Jicama
Jicama is not only delicious but also packed with essential nutrients. It is low in calories and fat, making it a healthy choice for those watching their weight. Jicama is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. It also contains small amounts of iron, calcium, and vitamin A. Incorporating jicama into your diet can contribute to better digestion, improved immune function, and overall well-being.
Preparing for Jicama Cultivation
Selecting a Growing Area
Jicama thrives in warm, tropical or subtropical climates. It requires a long growing season, with a minimum of 9 months of frost-free weather. Choose a location in your garden that receives full sun for at least 6-8 hours a day. Ensure that the area is well-drained to prevent waterlogging, as jicama roots are susceptible to rot in overly wet conditions.
Jicama prefers loose, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve its fertility and drainage. Remove any rocks, weeds, or debris from the area. It’s also recommended to perform a soil test to determine if any specific nutrients need to be added.
Choosing Jicama Seeds or Transplants
Jicama can be grown from seeds or transplants. Seeds are less commonly available and may take longer to germinate, while transplants offer a head start. If you choose to start from seeds, select high-quality seeds from a reputable supplier. Transplants can be purchased from nurseries or started indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your area.
Germinating Jicama Seeds
If you decide to start with jicama seeds, soak them in water overnight to soften the seed coat. This will aid in germination. Fill a seed tray or small pots with seed-starting mix and plant the seeds about 1 inch deep. Place the tray or pots in a warm location (around 75-85°F or 24-29°C) with indirect sunlight. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Germination may take anywhere from 5 to 20 days.
Transplanting Jicama Seedlings
If you opt for jicama transplants, prepare the garden bed by loosening the soil and creating rows or mounds. Space the rows or mounds about 3-4 feet apart to allow sufficient room for the vines to spread. Gently remove the seedlings from their containers, being careful not to damage the roots, and place them in the prepared holes. Backfill the soil around the seedlings and firm it gently.
Spacing and Planting Depth
When planting jicama, space the seedlings or seeds about 8-12 inches apart within the row or mound. Plant them at a depth of 1-2 inches. Ensure that the soil is firmly pressed around the roots to establish good contact and prevent air pockets. Proper spacing allows the plants to receive adequate sunlight and airflow, reducing the risk of diseases.
Trellising Jicama Vines
If you have limited space in your garden, consider trellising jicama vines. Jicama plants produce long, twining vines that can be trained to grow vertically. Install sturdy trellises or supports in the garden bed before planting. As the vines grow, gently guide them to climb the trellis, securing them with soft ties or twine. Trellising not only saves space but also makes it easier to harvest the jicama roots.
Protecting Jicama from Extreme Temperatures
Jicama plants are sensitive to extreme temperatures. They prefer warm conditions but can struggle in excessive heat or cold. During hot summer months, provide shade to protect the plants from scorching sun. You can use shade cloth or plant taller crops nearby to create natural shade. In cooler climates, consider using row covers or cold frames to extend the growing season and protect the plants from early frost.
Caring for Jicama Plants
Watering and Irrigation
Jicama plants require consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Water the plants deeply once or twice a week, providing about 1 inch of water each time. Adjust the frequency and amount of water based on weather conditions, ensuring that the soil remains evenly moist but not waterlogged. Mulching around the plants can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.
To promote healthy growth and development, apply a balanced fertilizer with a ratio of 10-10-10 or similar at planting time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates. As jicama plants grow, side-dress them with nitrogen-rich fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Avoid excessive nitrogen, as it can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of root development.
Keeping the growing area weed-free is crucial for jicama plants, as they do not compete well with weeds. Regularly remove any weeds that appear near the plants, taking care not to damage the shallow roots. Applying a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, can help suppress weed growth and conserve soil moisture.
Managing Pests and Diseases
Jicama is relatively resistant to pests and diseases, but some common issues can still arise. Aphids, snails, slugs, and nematodes can occasionally affect jicama plants. Monitor the plants regularly and employ appropriate pest control measures if necessary. Diseases such as powdery mildew, root rot, and bacterial or fungal infections can be prevented by practicing good sanitation, providing proper airflow, and avoiding excessive moisture on the foliage.
Pruning Jicama Vines
To encourage better airflow and prevent diseases, consider pruning jicama vines. Once the vines have reached a length of about 6 feet, pinch off the tips to encourage branching and lateral growth. This will result in a bushier plant and better root development. Additionally, remove any damaged or diseased foliage throughout the growing season.
Mulching Jicama Plants
Applying a layer of organic mulch around jicama plants offers several benefits. Mulch helps to conserve moisture in the soil, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of straw, shredded leaves, or wood chips around the base of the plants, taking care to keep the mulch a few inches away from the stems. Mulching also adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down over time.
Harvesting and Storing Jicama
Jicama is typically ready for harvest 6-10 months after planting, depending on the variety and growing conditions. The plants will start to wither and turn yellow, indicating that the roots are mature. Carefully dig around the base of the plant to avoid damaging the tuberous roots. Lift the entire plant out of the ground and gently remove the soil to reveal the jicama tubers.
Cleaning and Storing Jicama
After harvesting, clean the jicama roots by removing any soil or debris. Trim the tops and roots, leaving about an inch of stem attached. Store the jicama in a cool, dry place with good ventilation, such as a pantry or cellar. They can last for several weeks to a few months if stored properly. Avoid refrigerating jicama, as the cold temperatures can affect its texture and flavor.
Saving Jicama Seeds
If you want to save jicama seeds for future planting, allow some of the plants to mature and flower. The flowers will develop seed pods containing the jicama seeds. Once the seed pods turn brown and dry, carefully harvest them and open them to collect the seeds. Allow the seeds to fully dry before storing them in a cool, dry place in labeled envelopes or containers.
Jicama Recipes and Culinary Uses
Raw Jicama Recipes
Jicama is delicious when eaten raw, adding a refreshing and crunchy element to salads, salsas, and snacks. It can be sliced or julienned and used in salads with other vegetables or fruits. Jicama can also be paired with citrus fruits, herbs, and spices to create zesty and tangy salsas or dipping sauces.
Cooked Jicama Recipes
While jicama is commonly enjoyed raw, it can also be cooked in various ways. It can be stir-fried, roasted, or added to soups and stews. Cooking jicama softens its texture and imparts a slightly sweet flavor. Experiment with different cooking methods and flavor combinations to discover your favorite jicama dishes.
Popular Jicama Dishes from Around the World
Jicama is a versatile ingredient that is used in various cuisines worldwide. In Mexican cuisine, it is often found in dishes like ceviche, tacos, and salads. In Southeast Asian cuisine, jicama is commonly used in spring rolls and salads. Explore different cultural recipes to broaden your culinary horizons and make the most of this unique vegetable.
In addition to raw and cooked preparations, jicama can also be fermented. Fermenting jicama not only enhances its flavor but also adds beneficial probiotics to your diet. You can ferment jicama by slicing or shredding it and placing it in a jar with saltwater brine or a lacto-fermentation starter. Allow it to ferment at room temperature for a few days to several weeks, depending on your desired level of fermentation.
Jicama in Desserts
While jicama is commonly used in savory dishes, it can also be incorporated into desserts. Jicama can be grated or pureed and added to cakes, muffins, and even ice creams for a unique twist. Its natural sweetness and crunchy texture can add a delightful element to a variety of sweet treats.
Growing jicama can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to enjoy the crisp and refreshing flavors of this versatile root vegetable. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can successfully cultivate jicama in your own garden. From selecting the right variety and preparing the soil to caring for the plants and harvesting the roots, each step is essential in ensuring a bountiful harvest of jicama. So, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and embark on the journey of growing your own jicama. Happy gardening and bon appétit.