Native to central North America, Jerusalem artichokes which are also called by their modern name sunchokes are such strong growers that they can become rather invasive if not handled properly. Of course, this is mostly the case in warmer climates, but by the rate, they spread on our first attempt at growing them I have no problem believing this. Here is my guide on growing and harvesting Jerusalem artichokes. We merely planted two tubers, and the harvest we got from these was huge. What you see in the picture below is just about a half of it. There was, in fact, a lot more in the soil but it was trapped under the compost bin and shall remain unharvested.
Frankly, we didn't plan to harvest any at all; we just wanted to cover the compost bin during the summer months as strange as that might sound. We have a very small backyard, so the big compost bin is much nicer hidden away behind a wall of green leaves! We chose to try doing this with Jerusalem artichokes and yacon. We didn't expect to harvest anything, but we sure did. We had food for days and enough to stack in the freezer for the following months. Happy Days!
So what is edible when it comes to this plant? The edible part of this plant are the roots which have a crisp texture. When cooked, they become soft and make a great nutty alternative to potatoes. They are also delicious when added to potatoes in the humble potato mash since they give it a nice depth of flavour and additional nutrients.
How Many Varieties are There?
Just like potatoes Jerusalem artichokes come in a variety of sizes colours and shapes. While we got our hands on the beige kind which falls into the "stampede" variety there many more colours available. They range from dark purple and pink to almost white in skin colour. They can appear in shapes of small onions or resemble stubby cucumbers.
When to Plant Jerusalem Artichokes?
While the leaves die down, they are still considered a hardy plant as their tubers remain dormant during winter and sprout again during late spring and early summer. They can withstand extreme frost, and some people leave them in the ground until they want to use them. For planting, you should choose the small, firm and most healthy looking tubers. Plant them in early spring to get Jerusalem artichokes with big roots which give them the longest growing season possible. I read in quite a few guides that any small tubers that you missed while harvesting will shoot up and supply you with a decent crop. I have yet to wait and see to confirm this, but I have to say I am excited about it.
Where to Plant Jerusalem Artichokes?
Jerusalem artichokes like well-drained soil, and while they are rather undemanding, you need to keep one thing in mind. They will grow large in height, much like sunflowers and will cast a considerable shade at anything close to them. Do not plant them right next to vegetables or flowers that don't do well in the shade. The fact that they grow so tall also calls for staking and support in the latter part of the year. We had to tie ours to the fence to prevent them from falling over during windy weather.
You can see we planted them in a rather shady spot in the garden and they grew very tall. They only really got the sunshine once they outgrew the fence and compost bin. If you wonder which plant is the Jerusalem artichoke - it is the tallest plant shown to the left of the grown up in the picture below. You can see why it is also called sunchoke. It belongs to the same family as daisies and sunflowers. Look at the yellow flowers towering over everything!
How to Plant Jerusalem Artichokes?
As preparation all you need to do is dig out weeds and grasses. In our case we did not even remove the grass since we just wanted something to cover the compost bin. However if you plan to plant jerusalem artichokes for harvesting reasons you should follow these steps.
Plant the tubers 5-15cm (2-6 inches) deep and about 30-40 cm (12 -16 inches) apart. When the plants are about 30cm (1 foot) tall make sure to keep the soil moist but not too wet. We mulched ours with grass clippings to retain soil moisture. Stake and support the plant where needed - they grow huge!
How to Harvest Jerusalem Artichokes?
The jerusalem artichokes will be ready for harvest in about 4 - 5 months. If you want to maximise tuber production you should cut off flower stalks, that way the plant doesn't waste energy on seed production. We let ours go to flower and it did not seem to hurt tuber production too much. Jerusalem artichokes are generally ready for harvest when the leaves die down. If you have the patience you might want to wait for the first frost as tubers harvested after they got hit by the first frost taste sweeter. In my experience the best harvest season is end of september until march.
We waited about 8 months from planting to harvest. Not because we wanted fancier tubers but merely because we did not expect to harvest anything at all. We were digging out of sheer curiosity once the dead plant was removed. Don't be fooled by the still green, large leaves shown in the November picture below. Those are not jerusalem artichokes - they belong to the yacon which is another experiment we started at the same time.
To harvest them simply cut back the dead growth and lift the tubers with a digging fork. Some will break, but if you are careful, you should get most of them out without causing damage. They last longer and are easier to store when they are intact.
Most of the tubers will come up as a large cluster, and you will have to carefully split them. The rest will be in the ground, and you will have to individually pick them out. It's done by turning over the soil and sifting loosely through it with your hands.
Now if you have your own experiences with growing and harvesting Jerusalem artichokes I'd love to hear about it. If you decide to give them a go this year let me know if you are successful. I love seeing pictures of other people's gardens.