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How to Grow: Jerusalem Artichokes
Learn about growing Jerusalem artichokes in your garden.
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This vegetable always puzzled me. It’s not from Jerusalem, and not an artichoke. But what is great about Jerusalem artichokes
(Helianthus tuberosus), or sunchokes as they are now commonly called, is they’re tall sunflower-like plants that produce tasty edible tubers that look like knobby potatoes. The tall stalks and small yellow sunflower make a great edible background plant in the back of the garden or against a wall or fence.
The tubers have a sweet, almost nutty flavor. I like peeling and shredding Jerusalem artichokes raw into salads. You can also slice them, like water chestnuts, and add them to salads or stir fries for a crunchy texture. They can be cooked like potatoes in soups, stews or even mashed. They are smaller than potatoes and require more cleaning around the knobs, but they do have an unusual taste and texture.
They’re an easy to grow this perennial, native American vegetable. In fact, once you have them in your garden, they sprout up every year from left over tubers in the ground so you never have to plant again. Just be sure you want them in that section of garden because they’re tough to get rid of ones established.
When to Plant
Jerusalem artichokes need all season to produce their tubers, so plant 2 weeks before your last frost date. That’s usually late April or May.
Where to Plant
Jerusalem artichokes grow in almost any kind of soil and best in full sun. They can tolerant dry and wet soils once they get growing. Since the stalks can grow up to 8 feet tall, plant them on the north side of your garden so they don’t shade other vegetables. They also look good against a building, fence, or used to screen an unsightly view.
How to Plant
Plant tubers 4 inches deep and 12- to 18-inches apart. Keep the newly planted tubers well watered. Each tuber will send up multiple stalks.
Care and Maintenance
Taking care of Jerusalem artichokes couldn’t be easier. Keep the soil moist and weeded until the plants are up, then leave them alone. They grow so fast they will crowd and shade out any weeds. To encourage a larger crop, you can remove the flowers, but I like the sweet-looking, sunflowers to decorate my garden in summer. Jerusalem artichokes have few pests.
You can start harvesting the 6-inch diameter, red or brown-skinned tubers in fall once the plants start to yellow. For the best flavor, wait until a few light frosts have turned the stalks brown and then harvest. The tubers will have a sweeter flavor. If you want to have a crop next year, leave a few of the smaller tubers in the ground. Chances are when harvesting, you’ll probably not be able to find them all, so this usually isn’t a problem.
The knobby tubers have a crisp, white flesh. The skin can be tedious to remove, so I like growing ‘Fuseau’ that has a red, smooth skin or ‘Stampede’ that has large brown-skinned tubers that are easier to clean.
Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.
Here’s a riddle for you. What vegetable has two words to its name, but neither of them accurately describe it? It’s the Jerusalem artichoke. This vegetable has nothing to do with Jerusalem and isn’t an artichoke. So why the name? Jerusalem artichokes are native American plants related to sunflowers. Brought back to Europe by Samuel De Champlain, he thought the roots tasted like artichokes. That part of the name stuck. Eventually they made their way to Italy. In Italian the word for sunflower is “girasole”. Somehow that name was translated into Jerusalem and hence the common name, Jerusalem artichoke.
Today they’re more fittingly called, sun chokes, and are worth a try in your garden. The knobby roots are harvested like potatoes. They have a sweet, nutty flavor and a crunch similar to water chestnuts. While the temptation is to boil and mash them like potatoes, don’t. Stir fry or bake these roots for the best flavor or thinly shred them for eating raw in salads.
Sun chokes love full sun and well drained, loamy soil. Plant tubers like you would potatoes, spaced 18- to 24-inches apart. ‘Fuseau’ and ‘Stampede’ are two good varieties to try. The stalks can grow up to 10-feet tall producing an attractive, small sunflower by summer. After a frost, chop down the flower stalks, dig and harvest the tubers. Be sure you get all them, because any left behind will sprout the following spring and can become weeds. For that reason I like to plant them in a wood-lined raised bed so it’s clear where to find the tubers.