As a lifelong plant geek, I am constantly learning about new plants and adding them to our gardens. Anytime I hear about an intriguing plant, I instantly consider adding it to the collection. This goes double for edible plants. Luckily part of my day job consists of buying plants, or we might be in real trouble. One of the plants that we added to the garden this year was Jerusalem artichoke. Given their toughness and abundant harvests, they were a plant I had to try.
What are Jerusalem artichokes?
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), also known as sunchokes, are a perennial sunflower grown for their edible tubers. They are a high yield carefree perennial vegetable that can be grown throughout the United States but are better adapted to cooler climates.
Fresh sunchoke tubers have a similar texture to water chestnuts. When the tubers are cooked, they have are similar to potatoes. Jerusalem artichokes can even be pickled. You know Kristyn and I can’t wait to try that out.
As easy as Sunchokes are to grow, be careful where you plant them as they can become somewhat invasive. Many gardeners have trouble completely removing them after planting them.
Jerusalem artichokes will grow nearly anywhere in nearly any climate. They thrive in full sun to partial shade. They are not particular about the soil they are grown in (music to a farmer’s ear), but for the greatest harvest, plant sunchokes in fertile sandy loam type soils.
The tuberous plant will quickly multiply and spread rapidly and aggressively. Plant sunchokes in a location that can be permanently and completely devoted to the plants. Give them at least a 5 feet by 5 feet space to spread out. Also, keep in mind that the tall plants will shade out smaller plants so give them some distance from vegetable plots.
In our garden, we sheet mulched the sunchoke bed during the fall before planting. To baby them through their time getting established, we spread a deep layer of half composted wood chips to help hold in moisture. Everything was left to break down over the winter. By spring time, we had a garden bed ready for planting.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers should be planted in the early spring a few weeks before the average last frost date. In preparation for planting sunchokes, loosen the soil and amend with a few inches of aged compost. The tubers should be planted 3 to 5 inches deep about 18 inches apart. They work well planted in rows or blocks.
These hardy perennials very much so resemble most of the sunflower family. They grow in clumps 5-10 feet tall. Large rough leaves are topped with small yellow flowers.
If the flowers are left on the plant, it will also reseed itself. (Hints why farmers have trouble completely clearing them out.) The sunchokes can be contained by cutting off flowers. For us, that was just extra motivation to have fresh flowers inside all season. I know this makes one happy wife in my house.
Keep the plants weeded and well mulched while the plants are small. By early summer, the sunchokes will already be tall enough to shade out most weeds. Once Jerusalem artichokes get established, they thrive on neglect. They got watered through a few dry spells, but overall our Jerusalem artichokes were left to themselves.
Types of Jerusalem artichoke.
Gardeners have been indulging in growing Jerusalem artichoke for hundreds of years, selecting the best of their crops year to year. Over time, certain strains were selected and shared for their virtues. Always pursue strains that are better adapted to your local climate.
One of the most popular white skinned strains is Stampede which is an early yielding strain adapted to shorter seasons. Slower growing strains like Fuseau grow longer less knobby tubers. A number of red skinned strains exist as well. Red fuseau is an early yielding longer type of tuber.
Oikos tree crops has one of the most extensive collections of Jerusalem artichokes around.
With cold weather quickly approaching, most of these delicious tubers will be dug up in the coming weeks. We have harvesting tips and a number of recipes to try out and share, so keep an eye out for more on these tasty Jerusalem artichokes.