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July 13, 2018
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

As a child, I sang the "Playmate" song.

"Oh playmate, come out and play with me and bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree, shout down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door, and we'll be jolly friends forever more." Now I knew what all those items were. Not many of today's people do, unless you're my age? These things were a necessity, then came progress, new ideas, modernizing. From the farm we moved to the city and the root or fruit cellar came indoors to the basement, and our canned (foods we prepped for storage) goods were kept in there on the shelves. So necessary when we had a lack of electricity or refrigeration. (Yes, my children claim I knew the dinosaurs).

I miss those slanted double doors that lead down steps, under the house, to this cool place (ground temperatures remain at a relatively constant temperature - cool). Playing on those doors, stomping up and down on them, and laying in the sun on them, watching the clouds roll by and figuring out the cloud shapes.

The inner sanctum held coolness and food supplies. I realize, basements aren't dug in Southwest Florida. I speak from living in Michigan and Indiana, in the cold.

Then, cellar stairs were put inside the homes for easy access from the kitchens. Dark, dank basements, and if they were cemented, their floors became play spaces in bad weather, places to hang the wet clothes after laundering them, with an adjacent room for food storage.

All this to comment on my newly favorite root vegetable. Love carrots, beets, onion, potatoes sweet, white or golden. But now I've discovered Pachyrhizus erosus, or jicama. Friends brought me some from ECHO. It was like a large, crunchy, fat, non-biting radish ball; some have described it like eating a savory apple. You peel off the yellow, papery skin, it leaves a white interior that resembles a potato or pear. The flavor is sweet and starchy. You can eat it raw with lemon or lime juice and salted, or dipped in salsa or cooking it in stir-fries or soups.

Warning: Just a big shout-out, anything but the root is highly poisonous. The seeds contain the toxin rotenone, which is used to poison fish and insects.

We peeled and sliced it, making a great appetizer when eaten raw. With such a white interior appearance, you'd think it needs to have protection from browning, but there is no need to rub it with lemon or store it in acidulated water. You slice white slices then cut them into strips, narrow sticks and serve it on the salad bar with the carrot sticks (dietetic aids). Great for crunchy munchies. You can use it and store the leftover in the refrigerator. The cut end will dry, just cut it off before using it again.

There will be no discoloration.

It grows as a tuber/bulb/rhizome on a long vine. Other names for jicama are, Mexican potato, Chinese potato, yam bean and sweet turnip. Being a Mexican import, they must grow in a tropical climate year-round.

I pronounce it "Hic - a - ma," there may other pronunciations out there. Named species in the bean family because it sprouts beans, but one only eats the root. Avoid eating any part that grows above ground. If you see any parts of the tuber exposed, cover it immediately with soil.

They are becoming popular enough to be found in the produce section of your grocery store or a Hispanic farmer's market all year round. Look for a smooth skin. A tuber that sprouts long vines with blue or white flowers that turn into pods like lima beans when a fully developed plant. We eat only the root. The largest one was found in the Philippines that weighed 23 kg in 2010. Now my understanding is 1kg weighs 2.20462262 pounds, so do the math. It requires 9 frost-free months to grow a large harvest.

The beauty of this root is, it can be dry stored for a long time, in temperatures of 53 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Store dry at 53 to 60 degrees up to 2 months, like in a root cellar. It should not be refrigerated.

When growing from seed, the seeds require bottom warmth, growers from tropical areas can sow seed anytime of the year, it grows year-round. Soak seeds overnight, then place two seeds into a 4-inch pot filled with potting mix for seedlings. Place them in the warm light. When the seedlings have sprouted, pick the strongest one to continue until you can plant it outside in full sun (be wary of Florida full-sun.)

It will need some support. Pinch out tip growth and encourage bushy, dense growth.

Jicama is a day-length sensitive growth plant. Tubers are not produced until the day length is fewer than 9 hours long. That brings you into fall. Keep them off the ground,. Try nets, wire fence or tri-pods, they need support. Once the foliage has died, you can harvest the tubers. Store in a cool, dark place to keep them from getting woody. That is why root cellars work so well.

So - Playmate couldn't come out to play, it was a rainy day. She says, "I'm sorry playmate, I cannot play with you, my dollies got the flu, boo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo. Ain't got no rain barrel, ain't got no cellar door, but we'll be jolly friends forever more."

Find a healthy tree doing it's thing and thank it for making your life healthy and easy.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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