We’ve all been cautioned to not judge a book by its cover. Jerusalem artichokes are one veggie not to judge by its name. Jerusalem artichokes are native to North America and not to the Middle East, as its name would imply. And rather than being a relative to the globe-shaped artichokes with layers of leaves, the Jerusalem artichoke is harvested for its knobby root that’s considered a healthy alternative to a potato at dinnertime.
Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes, have been enjoyed as a food crop here in the U.S. for a long time. Native Americans would roast them and eat them as finger food. They have made their way to Europe and back as a proliferative and easy to grow crop that Americans and Europeans have enjoyed cultivating for 300 years. With a rich history and with lovely sunflower-type blooms, they make for an interesting, attractive, and edible addition to your garden.
While Jerusalem artichokes are yummy when roasted, they can be mashed and drained for use as a soup. Or they can be thinly sliced and baked into chips. You can cut them up and enjoy them fresh all by themselves or as a throw-in to a salad. They boast a crisp, water chestnut flavor when eaten raw. Their cooked flavor is nutty and light. And the sugar in these root vegetables is slow to metabolize. This makes them a great choice for diabetics who want to avoid starch in potatoes.
How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes grow to be between 6 and 10 feet tall, so plan on allowing this plant plenty of space in your garden. Also consider that because of its size, the Jerusalem artichoke may shade out some of your other vegetables that need full sun. Some gardeners allow this plant a plot all to itself.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers can be obtained online, from your local nursery, and even from the supermarket. Look for them at plant swaps and farmers markets, too. When you find them locally, you can be sure that you will have a successful harvest. However, these are not finicky plants, and you should have success with growing them regardless of where you get your tubers.
Your Jerusalem artichokes should be planted in late winter or in early spring when your ground becomes workable. They can be planted as late as you might plant your tomatoes, too. But, be sure to provide the longest growing season possible. If the tubers you have found are large, cut them into chunks and plant them immediately. You can pop small sized tubers into the ground whole.
Jerusalem artichokes are not particular about soil, so any good, well draining, garden soil will do. Place your tubers about 5 inches deep and up to 18 inches apart. They do prefer cool soil conditions, so water them often. Once they are about a foot tall, cover the soil around them with an organic mulch to help retain that soil moisture.
Later in the summer, cut the flowers from your plants and put them in a vase. Or brighten someone’s day with a bouquet. Cutting the flowers will encourage the plant to focus energy on the growing roots, which you will harvest when the weather turns cold.
After the first couple of frosts, take a digging fork and pull up as many tubers as you can find. You will have to search up to a foot deep. Leave a few of the smaller tubers to come up again next year. Chances are, you will inadvertently leave a few behind. You can count on a few volunteers to show up next year.
Jerusalem Artichokes Pests and Problems
Insect pests of any real threat rarely bother Jerusalem artichokes. They also have no disease related issues to mention either.
One note of caution, though. Some find that their Jerusalem artichokes are so proliferative they become a bit of a frustration. Since the flowers will go to seed, the seeds can spread all over the garden if given the opportunity. So, cut the flowers back before they go to seed. This will help, again, to allow the roots of individual plants to grow large and tasty. It will also help to prevent seeds from spreading and creating new plants beyond your control.
Jerusalem Artichokes Varieties to Try
‘Fuseau’ is grown for its straight, long, white, knob-free tubers that make washing and peeling especially easy.
‘Red Fuseau’ is an early yielding variety with smooth red skin.