April 1, Jicama Planting Day!
Get your seeds! The local Latino gardeners I know plant their jicama religiously on April 1! If you have never had jicama before (pronounced HE caw maw), and you like a low cal crisp crunchy juicy texture, like water chestnuts, give it a try! The first time I had jicama was in Little Mexico in LA. It was served as finger food, like large French fries, drizzled with lime, sprinkled with chili powder! The lime and the cayenne talked to each other. Jicama itself is mildly sweet and starchy, but excels in texture. I love it diced in my salads. Although jicama originated in North America, it is most popular in China!
PLANTING Our Jicama, jicama de agua, is a legume, like peas and beans. The part that is eaten is the tubers. They really need to be planted April 1 because they take 4 to 6 months to grow. Theoretically jicama needs a long, hot growing season, but we do ok here. See image! REMOVE THE FLOWERS! For the tubers to expand in diameter, clip the beautiful lavender flower stalks off when you first see them! If you let your plants flower, the tuber develops AFTER the vine is done flowering. The roots enlarge in fall as days begin to grow shorter. A warm fall helps. My 2011 harvest was in October, but my first plantings didn’t take – weather too cool I think, finally got seedlings at the beginning of May.
For seeds for next year’s planting, let them flower and make pods. My first seeds came from a Latino gardener friend. He can no longer bring seeds over the border from Mexico because now rules are more strict and being enforced, so we are saving our own seeds. Our local nurseries don’t carry the seeds, so special order or find a friend who grows them.
The seeds are tan-brown. They are just over a ¼ inch round, flat like little wheels with no spokes. Put your seeds in an inch deep, 6 inches apart, maybe 8 inches apart if you anticipate a cool summer. They need all the light and heat they can get. Too close together and they shade each other. Plant the rows about 8 inches apart. This is much closer than what you will read online, but it works! The plants will vine a bit over each other but there is no need to trellis them. Plant in rich well drained soil, keep them watered, generously apply compost monthly during their growing season. Remember, they are working hard underground! My best ones grew on the sunny side of a small corn patch.
Jicamas do take up space, and they are not particularly nutritious, and it takes time to grow those luscious tubers. Harvest starts late, Sep, Oct, on through December. If there is no frost, leave them in the ground until needed! Think on whether you really want to devote space to them at all, and if so, how much can you spare? For me, the fresh crispy juicy, 90% water, crunch of a home grown jicama is worth it all! I like that you can leave them in the ground, getting bigger, until you want one! Every single one you grow is fresh every time you harvest! They don’t grow right at the surface, they are generally about 3” down, or more.
Pest problems? None! La Gringa says ‘Jícama is seldom bothered by insects because the seeds, leaves, and ripe pods are poisonous. The seeds contain rotenone, a potent insecticide.’ UC Davis Cooperative Extension says in the tropical production areas, the immature pods are sometimes cooked and eaten, but mature pods are said to be toxic. No kidding. Do NOT leave children or pets unattended around podding plants, or don’t put the plants where there are kids and pets, or clip the pods off – buy your seeds through catalogs and do put your seeds safely away.
Harvest carefully so as not to cut into your tuber. Some get much bigger than others even though they are planted at the same time, even when next to each other!
The beauty of jicama?! Only 45 calories for one cup of cubed root! Jicama is surprisingly high in Vitamin C, a cup provides 40% of your daily Vitamin C needs! It is fat and sodium free. Though high in carbs, it is the perfect diabetes snack because it is rich in slow-release carbs.
- Try shredding beets, jicama and carrots and combining them with your favorite dressing for a delicious salad extremely rich in antioxidants.
- Combine cubes of jicama with mango, pineapple, watermelon and cucumbers to make a refreshing tropical dish with loads of nutrition.
- ‘Uncle Paul’ says: Like potatoes, jicamas can be steamed, baked, boiled, mashed, or fried. But unlike potatoes, however, they can also be eaten raw. Sliced into wide sticks jicama makes a crunchy carrier for salsas, dips, and guacamole. It will absorb and reflect the surrounding flavors. Jicama is an incredible and versatile cooked vegetable when sautéed with other vegetables, added to your favorite stir fry, or just simmered in a delightful stew.
Peeling your fresh jicama is super easy. Cut off the tail (root) below your tuber. Cut off the top. Then, with your knife, ‘grab’ a section of the skin at the top, and pull it down the side of your tuber. It will neatly peel off. Continue on around the tuber, voilà, naked jicama! Cut it into serving pieces as you wish. Recipes with jicama often include cilantro, chilies, ginger, citrus, soy sauce, sesame. Cooked in soups and marinated for stir fries, it stays crisp.
If you would like to join me in jicama planting, get your seeds now for April 1 planting day!