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Turn Your Organic Garden Into a Garden of Eatin'
Grow Jerusalem Artichokes

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 that fall.

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 potato/sunchoke pancakes.

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.
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-1-a.html

Jerusalem artichoke facts and recipes
http://homecooking.about.com/library/archive/blv71.htm

Digg! digg it

Tammy Biondi has been growing organic produce for over 10 years. Besides running Blue Horizon Farm, Tammy teaches about sustainable farming at the Central Carolina Community College. She also is a successful freelance writer, focusing on agricultural topics. Contact her at tammy@bluehorizonfarm.com.