Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

You say Jerusalem artichoke, I say sunchoke

Grow this knobby root first for its yellow flowers, then for its tasty tuber


Little about the Jerusalem artichoke is as it appears. It’s not from the Middle East, nor it is an artichoke. It’s actually a native North American sunflower whose root is eaten as a vegetable. While the botanical name is Helianthus tuberosus, this tuber also goes by many other aliases—sunchoke, sunroot and even earth apples.

To confuse things further, the elongated, knobby root looks like ginger, but cooks up like a potato—only lighter and with a nuttier taste. Raw, it’s closer in texture and sweetness to a water chestnut.

Plant early
While difficult to pigeonhole, sunchokes are easy to grow. Some would say too easy. They become invasive if ignored. Because they can reach between five to 10 feet tall and are like to spread, give them their own space at the back of the garden or along a fence. This way they won’t shade out other plants or invade their territory.

Planting is best done in spring. They require a sunny location and little care beyond a bit of water if the summer is dry. If you already grow sunchokes, dig up last year’s crop and add a bit of compost to the soil before replanting the smallest of the tubers. Remember, some people consider these a weed, so don’t show them any mercy—or you’ll be begging for some yourself.

Harvest late
Unlike their giant-headed cousins, the sunflower, sunchokes produce small, simple flowers at the end of the summer. But it’s their roots you’re after. Harvest your sunchokes just before the first frost. Don’t get impatient. Cold weather brings out the characteristic sweetness and crisp texture. If you pick too soon, the tubers will be unremarkable.

You can use a shovel, but it’s just as easy to grasp the stalk and pull. When you gather the uprooted tubers, be sure to look for stragglers. These could come back as very determined volunteers.

If you decide to leave the growing to more diligent gardeners, sunchokes are available at farmers’ markets from mid-fall to early spring. Look for the smoothest tubers to make cleaning easier.

 

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