Chufa is a Spanish word that means “ground almond.” It is a type of nut-grass that produces a potato-like tuber under the ground that is usually grown for wild turkeys. Chufa is high in fat and protein and is an excellent food source for wintering waterfowl when flooded. Mallards and other dabbling ducks prefer chufa flooded at a depth of two to eight inches while the diving ducks, such as ring-necks, redheads, and canvasbacks love it when flooded to depths over one foot. On Catahoula Lake in Louisiana, chufa supplied fifty-seven percent of the diet of mallards; sixty-seven percent for pintails, and averaged sixty-seven percent of food items eaten by wigeon, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, ringnecks, canvasbacks, and lesser scaup. Researchers reported that chufa ranked tenth of all waterfowl foods in the United States and Canada, and ranked third in the Mississippi Valley region.
Chufa grows best in moist soil but does not do well on sites that are extremely wet or flooded during the growing season, it also commonly occurs in bottomland under stories and on exposed mudflats of seasonally flooded Catahoula Lake in Louisiana. The outer contour of the lake is dominated by chufa, composing up to eighty-five percent of the total vegetation. Good chufa tuber production depends on at least a three-month flood-free period during the growing season. When properly fertilized with good weed management chufa can yield 4 to 7 tons per acre.
Duck ponds which can be drained and planted during summer and flooded during winter provide excellent habitat for waterfowl. Chufa can be planted from April through July and requires 90 to 100 days to mature. Planting chufa from June 20 through July 10 will reduce weed and insect pressure to the plants. Acquiring your tubers from a quality supplier, such as Mixon Seed, assures you of starting off right. Chufa grows best in sandy loam soil, but this hardy plant will grow even in hard clay. To plant chufa, either broadcasting or row-planting is acceptable. Whichever method you choose, spread fertilizer (13-13-13) at a rate of about 400 pounds per acre (depending on the fertility of your soil) and disk it in. Treflan, either granular or liquid, can be used as pre-emergent weed (grass) control. A clean chufa plot with little weed competition will produce greater yields than a weedy plot. To control broad leaf weeds you can use 12 ounces of banvel per acre when the chufa is 8 inches tall. Chufa also grows best in soils with a ph level of around 6.5. Chufa yields can also be boosted by adding 1 ton of gypsum per acre prior to planting.
Broadcast planting method: Chufa can be broadcast at a rate of about forty pounds per acre on the prepared seed-bed. Next, disk in to a depth of about one and one-half inches. Top dress the chufa with urea (200 lbs per acre) when the plants are about six to twelve inches in height.
Row-planting method: Row plant chufa on a prepared seed bed as described above using a Virginia peanut plate (corn plates will not work). Plant in twenty to thirty-six inch rows with a spacing of about 4.5 inches apart in 20 inch rows and 2.5 inches apart in 36 inch rows. Chufa tubers should be planted to a depth of one to one and one half inches deep in the soil. Side dress with 200 pounds per acre of urea when the plants are six to twelve inches in height. Row planting produces a heavier yield than broadcast planting. If you have wild hogs in your area you will need to fence in your chufa plots to keep the hogs out. An important point to remember about chufa plots is that they should be planted every third year to avoid insect damage and ensure a good crop. Rotate planting crops such as corn, millet, or rice in other years.
We don’t always recommend eating food planted for waterfowl but you really should give chufa a try. It tastes like a cross between an almond and a coconut. Dating back to Ancient Egypt where it was first domesticated about 7,000 years ago, chufa has, in more recent years, been used to grow an acre each fall to fatten the hogs on because they helped make such tasty pork. Chufa also made tasty snacks for the farm family during the winter, and even bread was made from chufa. It was ground into a fine, powdery flour and substituted for half the flour in any bread recipe. In Spain, an elixir is served in health spas, pubs, and restaurants – a beverage that is reminiscent of coconut and pineapple. Chufa tuber supplies are usually limited so make sure you place your order early with Mixon Seed by calling 803-531-1777.
Should you have any questions about Chufa please contact:
David Wielicki – SCWA Executive Director and Lead Waterfowl Biologist