When I first moved to my small farm in North Carolina, I was
eager to grow all sorts of new and interesting plants and
vegetables in my organic garden. Many of my new friends and
neighbors caught wind of this fact and, next thing I knew, they
had generously supplied me with buckets of bulbs, stacks of
seedlings and boxes of garlic and Jerusalem Artichokes to plant
Jerusalem artichokes are often on the menu at trendy restaurants
where they are often known by their more hip and fresh sounding
alias, Sunchokes. They add a delectable, sweet crunch
(reminiscent of jicama or water chestnut) to salads and are
delicious in simmered in stews or fried as hash browns or
Jerusalem artichokes are also a great food for diabetics because
their sugars are in the form of inulin, a substance which shows
anecdotal evidence of helping to moderate blood sugar levels yet
isn't absorbed by the human body for use as energy (this also
makes them a great food for dieters)! Thus, they are sweet,
crunchy, filling and low in sugar and calories.
As members of the sunflower family, Jerusalem artichokes are
well adapted to most areas of the US and are a crop that is
native to North America. They do especially well in the Northern
two-thirds of the country. The Jerusalem artichoke itself is a
tuber that grows as the base of a sunflower-like plant, which
also has pretty yellow flowers. They are vigorous growers, and
gardeners are more likely to end up with excessive quantities of
plants and tubers than too few.
In fact, Jerusalem artichokes can be hard to eradicate once they
take up residence in your garden--they make so many tubers that
it's almost impossible to harvest them all. Volunteers sprout
readily from any bit of tuber left in the ground. This is a big
plus if you really enjoy them but can be frustrating if you want
to grow them one year and then use their bed for different crop
the next year. Fortunately, once you try them, you will become
very fond of them and be glad when they reappear every spring.
In order to grow Jerusalem artichokes, you will need some
tubers. You may be as fortunate as I was and have a neighbor
with an abundance of extra tubers or you may have to buy them.
The tubers are widely available from seed companies and mail
order nurseries and are fairly affordable.
Once you get your hands on some tubers, you will have to find a
well-drained, deep soil to plant them in. As is the case with
potatoes and other root crops, Jerusalem artichokes like plenty
of fluffy, organic matter-rich soil to spread out and grow in.
The recommendation from NC State is to plant your tubers 3-5
inches deep with about 15 inches between each plant. That being
said, I have planted tubers much closer than that in my
highly-managed, high organic matter soils and have gotten
enormous yields of large tubers.
Lazy gardeners, such as myself, really appreciate Jerusalem
artichokes because they are very disease resistant and can out
compete most weeds. The plants can grow over six feet tall,
which makes them rather spectacular and leaves the ground under
their leaf canopy to be very shady, thus reducing the chances of
weeds surviving. Jerusalem artichokes are tailor-made for
organic gardening. Even the large-scale commercial growers of
this crop rarely use pesticides.
Jerusalem artichokes have a long growing season: they don't
flower until late summer and their tubers aren't ready to
harvest until after the first frost of the year. Just wait
patiently and you will be rewarded with loads of
fantastically-shaped (the tuber look very much like ginger root)
tubers. Then, the time will have come to cook them up and enjoy
the fruits of your Garden of Eatin'.
For More Information:
NC State University's Jerusalem Artichoke Growing Tips.
Jerusalem artichoke facts and recipes