Growing Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)

, written by gb flag

Harvested Jerusalem artichokes

There are so many good things about Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes in the US, that in some ways it's surprising they're not grown more. They're tasty, available all winter, exceptionally easy to grow, completely undemanding, very low-maintenance and ideal for beginners. They are also low in calories. There's just one drawback, which I'll come to later.

The Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial sunflower native to North America. It produces knobbly, white-fleshed (or, less commonly, red-fleshed) tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked. Better suited to cooler climates, they will grow in places like Florida, though your harvest is likely to be smaller.

It's often sold unnamed, and you could just buy some from your local greengrocer to plant out, but named varieties are becoming more common. In the States, French Mammoth White offers large yields. In the UK, Fuseau is popular because it's smoother-skinned than the others (in the US Golden Nugget and American are also smoother). It's also worth seeking out Dwarf Sunray. Being a bit more compact, with more flowers, it's better suited in the flower bed and its tubers don't require peeling.

Planting Jerusalem Artichokes

The tubers grow in just about any soil. This means that they're often relegated to a difficult area of the garden (ground that's waterlogged for extended periods is the only real no-no). That said, they will, like all vegetables, benefit from decent conditions. Improving poor soil before planting encourages the growth of larger tubers, which will be easier to cook later on. They prefer alkaline conditions, so add lime to raise the pH to around 6.5 if your soil is very acidic.

Jerusalem artichokes

The sturdy, hollow stems grow tall enough to double as a living screen or windbreak, but unless you specifically want them for this purpose, don't plant too many. Five is probably ample. Remember, one tuber can produce twenty!

Plant tubers 4-6 inches (10-15 cms) deep, 12-18 inches (30-45 cms) apart. If they are already sprouting, make sure the shoots are pointing upwards, and be gentle, as they break off quite easily. If you don't have many tubers, you can cut them into pieces (don't let these dry out), ensuring that each piece has a bud on it, and plant those.

Caring for Jerusalem Artichokes

General advice is to keep them watered and earth up the stalks as they grow. There's no doubt you'll get a larger harvest, with larger tubers if you do. However, I'll admit that I neglect mine shamefully, even in dry spells, and never earth up, yet I still have more than I ever need.

Because they grow so tall (easily reaching ten feet or more), the plants can suffer wind-rock, or overshadow other crops. If this is likely to happen, cut stalks down to around 4 feet (120 cms) high in mid-summer. This will make them bush out and creates more compact plants. It also discourages flowering (which begins in autumn) and, instead, encourages them to put their energy into growing bigger tubers.

Their flowers provide some late nourishment for insects at a time when many flowers have long gone, though, so rather than cutting them back, you could corral them with deeply set canes and wires, so that they don't wave around over the bed.

Harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes

Start harvesting after the first frost, when the plants begin to die back (around late fall—November in the northern hemisphere). If you're somewhere warmer, like Florida, then leave harvest until mid-winter.

Jerusalem Artichokes aren't easy to store well but one of their advantages is that they're quite happy left in the ground until you need them. If your ground tends to freeze, mulch well to ensure that you can extend the harvest period. If you do need to store them, ensure you put them somewhere very cool and with high humidity to help prevent them from shrivelling.

Replanting for the following harvest

It's not necessary to dig them all up if you've created a permanent bed for them, but they'll become congested in a couple of years if you don't. So, in early spring, dig over the bed, removing all you can find and replant (in the same place if you wish) the smoothest, biggest ones you come across. This helps ensure less knobbly artichokes in future years.

If you do get heartily sick of them, then covering the area with weed control fabric for a couple of years should see them off.

Jerusalem Artichoke flowers

Eating Jerusalem Artichokes

The drawback to Jerusalem Artichokes (and for some it's an insuperable problem) is that they contain inulin, a carbohydrate that feeds your gut bacteria. It's part of the reason why this vegetable is low in calories. It also causes wind.

I love them but can't eat too many at once. It's said that if you eat them everyday, the explosive effect wears off, but I've never actually come across anyone who's tried this and haven't had the courage to do it myself.

They do, however, make a delicious soup, either by themselves or in combination with carrots, sweet potatoes or even peppers. (To save my insides, I just make sure that they make up no more than 50% of the ingredients.)

The knobbliness of Jerusalem Artichokes means that it's best to find ways to cook them that don't require careful peeling. Instead you can roast them in their skins or boil them for around twenty minutes until tender and then peel them.

They can also be eaten raw, grated into salads, when they're a bit like water-chestnut, but the flesh browns easily and, after peeling, tubers should be sprinkled with lemon juice or put into acidulated water until needed, to keep their whiteness.

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"I love, love, love my Jerusalem artichokes. I wonder what kind of crop i will have this year? The drought and extreme heat kept mine from blooming this year. Since the cold makes them sweeter i am waiting to dig any up for a couple more weeks. We like them mashed like potatoes. "
Melanie Holtzclaw on Monday 26 November 2012
"Another question I have is: Is it the good gut bacteria that is being fed by the inulin? "
Melanie Holtzclaw on Tuesday 27 November 2012
"Gut bacteria isn't exactly my area of expertise, Melanie, but here's an extract that suggests it is. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/129/7/1438S.full"
Helen Gazeley on Tuesday 27 November 2012
"I did a little homework of my own and concluded it is probably feeding the good bacteria. My mom is working on rebuilding hers, so she will be getting a gift of some sunchokes soon. We had a nice hard freeze last night so i am looking forward to the sweeter taste the cold gives them. "
Melanie on Tuesday 27 November 2012
"A word of caution re: Jerusalem Artichokes. They are hard to erradicate from a spot they like to grow. I grew a row one year and although I loved to eat a few I had no use for the quantity that grew. I made the mistake of tilling the patch and for many years after I had hundreds of little Jerusalem artichokes all through the garden. Took me many years to get themn uder control. I do love a feed of them once a year though. "
Bill on Wednesday 2 January 2013
"I was going to plant Jerusalem Artichokes in my backyard garden. Then, I've read that it attracts mice (because it is their favorite food in winter and early spring). Is anyone had a problem with mice?"
Olena on Tuesday 5 March 2013
"Never had any problem with mice at all. "
Bill in Ontario Canada on Wednesday 6 March 2013
"I have a problem with voles eating them, but had enough for me!"
Anita P on Monday 6 May 2013
"Run off the voles with castor plants. They hate them!"
Robin on Tuesday 1 October 2013
"I planted them in my window box and they grew very well but...no flowers! Any suggestions?"
David on Saturday 9 November 2013
"David, you won't always get flowers, especially if they can't grow to their full height, which I'm fairly sure they can't in your window boxes. "
Helen Gazeley on Monday 11 November 2013
"Bumper crop in my raised bed this year. So far they are soft, almost like pithy in the center. I've been growing them for years and I never figured out what causes that. I only like them hard and crunchy like water chestnuts. Got any ideas? "
Doris Smith on Sunday 15 December 2013
"That doesn't sound good. Can't help you though as mine have always been firm."
Bill in Ontario Canada on Sunday 15 December 2013
"@Helen Thanks for your comments. However, being that they are related to sunflowers, I find the same seeds of sunflowers are gigantic in the garden and dwarfed in the flower box. In both cases the make flowers, just bigger or smaller. So, I am not sure the limited soil is the problem. As a follow-up, I dug up a few of the boxes...and found plenty of nice tubers! So the plants are happy, just not flowering. "
David on Monday 16 December 2013
"Thanks for the great article! This is the first time I have grown them and I really look forward to both the flowers and the tubers. When I lived in California I used to find Jerusalem Artichokes in the market once in a while. They were delicious. I love the idea that the flowers are good for bees (I read that elsewhere) and for other insects, which in turn must be good for bats and birds."
Caroni Lombard on Wednesday 7 May 2014
"Sigh - I am not a gardener. I can't even keep a houseplant alive. Too much water or not enough water or… anyway, I digress. My father planted some Jerusalem Artichokes for me in his garden and they are growing well. Planted them about a month or so ago and now it's mid-June and he wants to know when we should start harvesting them. I look at him blankly. I have no idea! Soooo, I Google it! And this was the top site. I read the article, and I still have no idea! Now, I mean no offense. I am sure the article is quite clear and I did learn a lot. It's just that I don't know anything about gardening so some things I just don't understand. :( So here are my questions - you said to "earth up the stalks as they grow". What does that mean? And you said, "Start harvesting after the first frost". Does that mean I just leave them in the ground all summer long? Sorry for my ignorance. Can you help? "
Laura on Wednesday 18 June 2014
"Laura - generally Jerusalem artichokes are considered an autumn/winter crop, so you don't start harvesting them until the weather has turned colder, usually after a frost. So yes, leave them in the ground over summer! "Earthing up" the stalks means pushing soil around the base of the plants to cover the lower part of the stem and the ground around them. You do this with potatoes to prevent the tubers being exposed to light and turning green. Personally I've never bothered doing so with Jerusalem Artichokes as exposure to light doesn't, as far as I'm aware, create toxins in the same way it does with potatoes. But I suppose it might be a good idea to keep the tubers well buried to avoid them being eaten by mice etc!"
Saskia on Thursday 7 August 2014
"I bought some in a supermarket last autumn and planted a few of them in a shallow raised bed. They are now at least 12 foot. Amazing, but I was wondering how come, seeing that it is now late August, they had not flowered yet. (Was beginning to wonder if they might be biennials.) Now I know why! Thanks for a super informative and straightforward article"
Shirley - UK on Tuesday 26 August 2014
"Just this morning I harvested mine. They were beginning to flower and I couldn't wait any longer. I had six plants and lots of small ones from those left in the ground last year. I have half a bushel and some are huge. Lots and lots of water this year."
Betty J on Tuesday 7 October 2014
" I bought about a pound of them for dinner about 10 years ago and planted a few of the smaller ones in a weed-patch up by the road, just for the fun of it. It's lousy soil, mostly clay and gravel. Nothing grows there except crabgrass, thistles and wild raspberries. To my surprise the Jerusalem artichokes loved it and at about 10 feet tall have no trouble competing with the weeds. Now, 10 years later, sometimes they bloom, sometimes they don't, but they ALWAYS produce. Every Fall, after the frosts or freeze kill or turn the leaves yellow, I dig up 5 or 6 of the largest plants and leave the rest go. No fertilizer, no mulch, no bug spray, no care at all. They just do "their thing" and I do mine."
Oluncledave on Friday 31 October 2014
"I have had my plants in the ground for 3 years and never once saw any bloom - although they did produce nicely. What can I do to have them bloom?"
katherine on Wednesday 28 January 2015
"Thanks for the comment "...It's lousy soil, mostly clay and gravel..." I have been looking for just that info - what kind of soil needed. I have a couple of wild areas on the edge of civilization where I want to stick some, but one of them is sandy clay landfill brought in on trucks years ago, the other is not much better. You have given me the encouragement I need to proceed. They should provide food for birds and brighten the area at the same time. "
Rusty Brown on Friday 20 March 2015
"I have a patch, but haven't really found a use for them - since the gassiness is a deal-breaker for my wife and really I'm no fan myself. But once the snow cleared and the ground thawed I dug up 10-12 pounds of them - still leaving plenty there to grow this summer. So my plan is to pickle them. I've got about a third of them in a crock doing lacto-fermentation and the rest I'm going to pickle with vinegar - following a couple of different recipes. Since I like pickles, but have failed at cucumbers every year, I'm really hoping the pickling experiment works!"
Anubis Bard on Sunday 12 April 2015
"so you can eat those left in the ground over winter??? why pickle,,why not eat cooke?"
ml on Sunday 26 April 2015
" can i grow Jerusalem artichokes in a tub?"
yvonne moram on Friday 22 May 2015
"Hi Yvonne. You can grow Jerusalem artichokes in a tub - but it would need to be a big one - at least 45cm (1.5ft) deep and a similar width. It's easier to grow them in the ground if you can. If you do grow in pots, make sure they are out of the wind as they will grow very tall and could, in theory, blow over in strong gusts. Water well in dry weather."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 May 2015
"So I don't know anything about artichokes. I bought a couple to plant. I still don't understand, where is the edible part, is it on the stalk above ground or below ground?"
John on Wednesday 27 May 2015
"Hi John. It's the tubers - the swollen roots - below ground that are the edible part."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 27 May 2015
"can I harvest does a shirt slim artichokes all summer if I am interested in doing it earlier. I have so many plans it seems a waste to wait until fall."
connie on Wednesday 27 May 2015
"It turns out that sunchokes are really good pickled. If you are interested, I wrote up the outcome of my experiment with pickling sunchokes at anubisbard.blogspot.com. "
Anubis Bard on Wednesday 27 May 2015
"You won't believe this! My sister gave me a scarlet runner bean plant. I read on the web that some people use Jerusalem artichokes as a trellis for scarlet runner beans. So, I Google "Jerusalem artichoke" to see what they look like, and lo and behold, I have a huge patch of them! My house goes back to 1832, so someone must have planted them. Each year the patch gets bigger. Now I can't wait until after the first frost to dig up some tubers and try them! "
Susan on Monday 1 June 2015
"Hi Connie. It's best to wait until the tubers have properly swollen - which will be in the fall/autumn. Otherwise there won't be much to harvest at all, if anything."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2015
"Hi Susan. That's a fantastic discovery. Enjoy the tubers!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2015
"When some one searches for his essential thing, therefore he/she needs to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here."
Baehr on Friday 19 June 2015
"I have Jerusalem artichokes in my preschool playground. It was a very hot summer so they didn't grow very tall. My question is do I cut down the plant that is out of the ground each year or do I leave it in the ground to continue growing. We have 2 to 3 feet of snow here."
Heather S on Saturday 7 November 2015
"Hi Heather. You can leave the tubers in the ground but the plants might become congested with time. Dig them up in the spring once the weather has started to warm, then replant some of the tubers to grow again for the coming growing season.You can cut the stems down to the ground once the plants die back later on in the fall/autumn."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 9 November 2015
"thank you your comment was very helpful. I will do it!"
Heather S on Monday 9 November 2015
"My soil is very waterlogged now so I harvested all 4 plants. A good crop - but a)!would they have rotted had I left some? b) anyone discovered a way of storing them over the winter months, or do I make gallons of soup and freeze it? Thanks"
David B on Saturday 14 November 2015
"Hi David. The tubers may well have rotted in continuously saturated soil, so you did well to lift them up. Soup is an excellent way of storing this very flavoursome vegetable. They will also keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, or store them in paper bags stored in a cool place such as a garage or basement where they may well keep for a while longer still."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 November 2015
"Thanks Ben Most helpful !! Their lifespan out of soil isn't mentioned anywhere I've searched, so your advice on storing - and how long they might last - is exactly what I wanted to know. "
David B on Monday 16 November 2015
"A quick and tasty way to cook chotes: Wash and brush the skins clean. Cook in water with lemon juice in it until just slightly cooked but firm. The lemon juice blanches them. Slice, then simmer in chicken stock until they are a texture you like. Salt and pepper to taste. They are delicious. Some parts of the chotes will always be softer or crunchier but that is part of the appeal. A note of warning... these things can cause serious gas (flatus). In fact I blame them for a hernia I developed many years ago however that hasn't stopped me from eating them. They taste too good. "
Bill on Monday 16 November 2015
"I haven't harvested any in years. Just planted again this year. But I read in a couple of other articles, that if you wait until after the first killing frost to harvest them, they take on a nutty flavor. I also read that they could be used as a trellis for cucumbers. So I'm going to plant a few pickling cukes near some of them, and give that a try."
J D Provence on Friday 1 April 2016
"Let us know how you get on with the cukes growing against them. Good luck!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 April 2016
"I wonder if you need to ferment mashed jeruselem artichoke the same way the hawaiians fermented taro root into poi. Probably would make them easier to digest that way."
Lisa on Monday 18 April 2016
"Hi Lisa. That sounds like an interesting idea. It could well help with the wind problem."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 April 2016

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