How to plant taro?

Growing Taro For Food: How To Grow And Harvest Taro Root

Of late, snack chips made of sweet potato, yucca, and parsnip have been all the rage – supposedly, as a healthier option to the potato chip, which is fried and loaded with salt. Another healthier option would be growing and harvesting your own taro roots and then turning them into chips. Read on to find out how to grow and harvest taro in your own garden.

Growing Edible Taro in the Garden for Food

Taro, a member of the family Araceae, is the common name under which a large number of plants reside. Within the family, there are many cultivars of edible taro varieties suited to the garden. Sometimes referred to as ‘elephant ears’ due to the plants large leaves, taro is also called ‘dasheen.’

This perennial tropical to subtropical plant is cultivated for its starchy sweet tuber. The foliage can be eaten as well and is cooked much as other greens are. It is rich in minerals and vitamins A, B, and C. In the Caribbean, the greens are famously cooked down into a dish called callaloo. The tuber is cooked and mashed into a paste, called poi, which used to be a common Hawaiian staple.

The starch in the large tubers or corms of taro is very digestible, making taro flour an excellent addition to infant formulas and baby foods. It is a good source of carbohydrates and to a lesser extent, potassium and protein.

Growing taro for food is considered a staple crop for many countries, but most especially in Asia. The most common species used as a food source is Colocasia esculenta.

How to Grow and Harvest Taro

As mentioned, taro is tropical to subtropical, but if you don’t live in such a climate (USDA zones 10-11), you can try growing taro in a greenhouse. The large leaves grow from 3-6 feet in height, so it will need some space. Also, patience is required, since taro needs 7 months of warm weather to mature.

To get an idea of how many plants to grow, 10-15 plants per person is a good average. The plant is easily propagated via tubers, which can be obtained at some nurseries or from the grocers, especially if you have access to an Asian market. Depending upon the species, the tubers may be smooth and round or rough and fibered. Regardless, just place the tuber in an area of the garden with rich, moist, well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.

Set the tubers in furrows 6 inches deep and cover with 2-3 inches of soil, spaced 15-24 inches apart in rows that are 40 inches apart. Keep the taro consistently moist; taro is often grown in wet paddies, like that of rice. Feed the taro with a high potassium organic fertilizer, compost, or compost tea.

For a non-stop supply of taro, a second crop can be planted between the rows about 12 weeks before the first crop is harvested.

Harvesting Taro Roots

Within the first week, you should notice a small green stem poking up through the soil. Soon, the plant will become a thick bush that may grow a foot to up to 6 feet, depending upon the species. As the plant grows, it will continue to send out shoots, leaves and tubers which allow you to continually harvest some of the plant without harming it. The whole process takes about 200 days from planting corms to harvest.

To harvest the corms (tubers), lift them gently from the soil with a garden fork just before the first frost in the fall. The leaves may be picked as soon as the first few leaves have opened. As long as you don’t cut all the leaves, new ones will grow, giving a continuous supply of greens.

Homesteading Stewards

My aunt by marriage is Japanese, and although she has been in this country since she was a young bride, she has not conformed to the American way of life in many ways. She still eats Japanese food – with chopsticks, still writes and reads in Japanese, and grows Japanese vegetables in her garden. One of the plants she grows looks like an elephant ear to me, but she eats the roots, and calls it “slimy potatoes”. I have to confess that I have never tried her slimy potatoes, even though I am usually game for eating anything. Maybe it’s all in the name. She gave me some this past summer, though, to grow and sell at the farmer’s market. I did a little research so I’d know what I was selling. Turns out what she grows is actually called taro, or satoimo in Japanese (which translates literally, “village potato”), and while it looks just like an elephant ear with a casual glance, it is important to know that there is a difference. Elephant ears shouldn’t be eaten, whereas taro is safe, and according to Aunt Rose, tasty. The way to tell the difference is in a small distinction in the leaves. I found a very good explanation, complete with helpful pictures, at this site… http://www.mauijungalow.com/2012/03/taro-vs-elephant-ear-telling-them-apart.html

Growing them in the United States is relatively easy, and like elephant ears, they like a lot of water. They even do well (maybe better) in a swampy or flooded area. This is why this type of plant is often seen underneath window unit air conditioners.

There are way more recipes using taro than I ever imagined, including soups, gnocchi, fritters, meat dishes, chips, ice cream, cake, and other desserts. The best place I have found for these is Yummly, through this link…http://www.yummly.com/recipes/taro . This site is complete with pictures, ingredients, directions, and nutritional facts on each recipe you click on.

Taro is a starchy vegetable, and is as versatile as potatoes and rice. The roots (called “corms”), are pale purple and can be roasted, baked or boiled. They have natural sugars, which give them a sweet nutty flavor. The starch in taro is easily digestible, and the grains are fine and small, making it good for baby food. It is best to boil the leaves and stems a couple of times before eating, for better favor. The leaves and stems are a good source of vitamins A and C and have more protein than the roots.

If you are interested in more, Wikipedia has quite a lot of information, including it’s different uses in different parts of India and Asia, where it originated. Check it out here…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taro

Now that I have done all this reading, I am going to try some of the recipes I found. It would be a cheap and easy to grow food source, that not only comes back year after year, but multiplies.

How To Grow Taro : Taro Plant Care

Taro (Botanical name – Colocasia esculenta) is native to India and Southeast Asia. Its roots and leaves are both edible. Taro can be grown in water under flooded conditions like rice and lotus, and also in soil in ground or large containers.
Follow the step-by-step guide on how to grow taro at home and how to care for taro plant including its roots and leaves with information on its propagation, pests, diseases, harvesting and fertilization.

Taro Elephant Ear Leaf

Taro is known by different names in different countries. Some of its names in India are taro, arbi, eddoe, kasu, pan, bal, ghandyali, sivapan-kizhangu (seppankilangu or cheppankilangu), chamagadda, chaama dumpa, etc. Taro is also known as chamadumpa, bun long, dasheen, elephant ear plant, kalo, kochu, mukhi arrow root, ggobe, nduma, kolkas, gabi, toran, aroei, sato-imo, kimo, cocoyam, edo, yu, yu tou, woo, wu choi,etc. outside India. The most common name is Elephant Ear.
Both the leaves and tubers (roots) of taro plant are edible. The taro leaves are eaten by making many dishes such as Pataud or Patra or Patrode or Aluchi Vadi, Hawaiian laulau, Palusami, etc. The taro roots can be used in dishes like pancakes, cheese cake, Cake (Woo Tul Gow), pie, fries, taro ki sabji, Savoury taro, satoimo taro chips, etc.
Taro is nutrition rich containing iron, fiber, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper and phosphorus. It is also high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B6, C and E. No wonder, taro, both roots and leaves offer many health benefits.
But weight watchers should not overdo it, iIt has more carbohydrates by volume than potatoes. 100 grams of taro contains 112 calories. So eating too much taro is not good for fat loss.

Taro Plant Description

Taro is a perennial herbaceous plant, means it has no woody stem above ground at the end of the growing season and its leaves and stems die down to the soil level.
The taro plant grows from 3 to 6 feet tall. The leaves of taro are large heart-shaped, similar to an elephant’s ear with light green purple colour. Tubers are elongated round, about the size of a tennis ball which are covered with brownish skin and hairs. Its stems are thick fleshy and juicy and grows up to 1.5 m in height.
There are two main systems used in taro cultivation:

  1. Flooded or wetland taro production in water, you can use buckets or big jars or nay pot.
  2. Dryland taro production in normal dry-soil

The taro corm yields grown in water are much higher than grown in soil and the weed infestation is minimized by flooding. In Asia it is often planted in wet fields.

Tips on Growing Taro at Home

Following is the detailed information for growing taro from tubers in ground in garden beds or pots. Taro is propagated by tubers or suckers.

Taro Varieties and Types

  1. There are various cultivars and forms of Colocasia esculenta for growing in wet conditions (in water) and in dry conditions (in soil). The taro varieties are often grouped by the color of the flesh of their tubers which range from pink to yellow to white.
  2. The cultivar Bun-long grows well in tropical zones. Its roots are white, dense and starchy flesh which are excellent for eating.
  3. The Chinese variety grows well from northern NSW to south-east Qld.
  4. li>In the USA, Trinidad dasheen grows well.

When to Plant Taro Roots

  1. Taro can be planted any time of year in frost-free areas and in spring in cold areas. It requires at least 200 frost-free days to reach maturity.
  2. In Australia, it can be planted almost the whole year. However taro roots grow well when the temperature is 25-35°C.
  3. Taro grown for its leaves can be grown in temperatures as low as 10°C, outdoors or indoors (in a greenhouse).

Soil For Planting Taro

  1. Taro grows well in a soil pH above 5.5 – 7.
  2. Dig the ground to a depth of 12 inch and break big chunks of soil. If the soil is clay mix some river sand to make it free draining.
  3. Taro requires good nutrition to grow well. Mix lots of organic material like compost and aged manure to amend the soil. How to prepare garden soil

Position : Where to Plant Taro

The question is should elephant ears be planted in sun or shade, how much sun? Taro grows well in partial shade. Choose a bright area in your garden which receives maximum rain water, even where water is clogged. The elephant ear plants thrives in a large amount of filtered sunlight, both indoors and outdoor.

Planting Taro in Soil

Make sure that you plant edible taro and not ornamental type which is not edible. Buy taro corms from a garden shop. Planting taro bought from a grocery store also grow well. I plant the taro tubers bought from a vegetable shop.

Taro Tubers

  1. Plant taro when the soil has warmed in spring.
  2. Taro propagation: Taro is grown or propagated by offshoots (suckers) of a main plant or from the tubers (small sections of tuber, small tubers)
  3. Separate an offshoot from a plant when it is about 15 cm tall and put in soil.
  4. Plant taro corms in ground in furrows or trenches about 15 cm (about 3 times the size of tuber) below the soil surface, at least 30 cm apart with 1 m between rows. Cover corms with 8-10 cm of soil.
  5. The tubers will germinate within a few days and a small leaf will emerge from the ground.
  6. Tubers can be forced to produce shoots in a warm bed of sand.

Growing Taro in Pots

I did’t have a large garden bed, so I grew taro in a large rectangular container with only 3 taro tubers and it produced reasonably good crop. Year-after-year, I am growing taro in the same container and regrow them.
In very cold areas, it can be grown in a container in a greenhouse. Plants grown in a greenhouse should be misted timely.

Watering Taro Plants

Taro needs plenty of water, so keep the plants well watered. It is important to keep the soil moist at all the times.

Fertilizing Taro

  1. Fertilise two or three times during the growing season with potassium rich fertilizer.
  2. Potassium deficiency can cause chlorosis of leaf margins and death of the roots.
  3. Zinc deficiency results in inter-veinal chlorosis.
  4. Phosphorus deficiency causes leaf petiole.

I feed with high-potassium liquid fertilizer like comfrey tea, compost tea or seaweed solution every third week.

Pests, Diseases and Problems

  1. Aphids, red spider mites, taro beetle, taro leaf blight and downy mildew may attack taro.
  2. Mulching with polythene, coconut husk or grass has only been partially effective in the control of the taro beetle and the taro leaf blight.
  3. Planting at high density, intercropping taro with other crops and crop rotation can control taro leaf blight.

Harvesting Taro Tubers

Freshly Harvested Taro

  1. The crop matures in 7-12 months depending on the weather. Pull out the tubers from the soil when the leaves begin to die down.
  2. If you want to eat taro leaves, cut them as and when you need them. New leaves will emerge again. I harvest leaves many times during the whole growing cycle to make “Patra” or “Pitod”.

Storage of taro Tubers

  1. Clean the taro corms and store in a cool, dry place. Consume the largest tubers first as they do not keep as well as smaller tubers.
  2. It is better to leave the tubers in the soil until needed, as they do not store for longer than a month if taken out.

Taro Flower

Flowers are infrequent and it rarely sets seed.

Taro Toxicity

Is taro root toxic? Are taro leaves harmful? Taro contains soluble and insoluble oxalates. Sobule oxalates are more harmful as these are more readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Thoroughly cooking the roots and the leaves destroys most of the calcium oxalate to make them edible. Eating this toxin contributes to gout and formation of kidney stones.

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Youtube Video on growing taro from grocery store taro
1.Taro Cultivation in Asia and the Pacific
2.Taro Colocasia esculenta(L.) Schott, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center and Pacific Islands West Area Office
3. Australian taro research 4. Noonan SC, Savage GP, Oxalate Content of Foods and Effect on Humans, Asia Pac. J. Clin. Nutr 8(1): 64-74 (1999)

Growing taro for more than its roots

Even during the coldest time of the year, gardener Suky Sung Lee enjoys her taro, the “potato of the tropics.” She doesn’t eat the tennis-ball-size tubers, but rather the strips of the fibrous stems, which she peeled and dried in the sun last summer to make torandae, dried taro strips. She also uses them for yukgaejang, a spicy beef and vegetable soup.

She could harvest her taro roots as well, but those are already available in ethnic markets. Dried taro strips for soup are much harder to find. In the summer she also harvests the outside leaves every few weeks, being careful not to deplete any one plant too much, thereby starving the root.

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“If you want to get good roots, you also cut the flowers before they bloom,” said Lee, who gardens at Ocean View Farms, the community garden in Mar Vista. “I take out all the flowers so the nutrition doesn’t go to the flowers for seeds.”

Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is also known as “elephant ears” for the shape and size of the leaves, but the Korean name, “egg from the earth,” is perhaps more to the point. Thought to be one of the earliest cultivated crops, taro originated 10,000 years ago in what is now India and Malaysia, but it has spread worldwide. Although it performs best in tropical locations with high rainfall, such as Hawaii (where it is the basis for poi), it’s also grown in the hills of Nepal. In Japan, taro was once more commonly eaten than rice.

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The corm, or root, is a tuber that grows like a potato. And like a potato, it can be baked, boiled, steamed or fried. The leaves and stems are also edible but must be cooked first. Raw taro is loaded with needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals, potentially poisonous and a cause of kidney stones. Gardeners should use gloves to avoid skin irritation.

Depending on the variety, taro can be grown in wetlands or in dry plots, but the soil must drain well, be kept moist and mulched with rich compost. Lee says the smaller round cultivars grown in soil rather than in water are tastier.

And even though the plant is dormant in winter, it may still be planted now. You can find starter corms in the produce section of Asian and Latino grocery stores. For already started plants, check out the Jungle nursery in West L.A. It has dry and wet varieties.

The Global Garden, our series looking at multicultural L.A. through the lens of its landscapes, appears here on Tuesdays. We welcome story suggestions at [email protected]

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