Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Winter's Harvest - Growing Jerusalem Artichokes

And we're back again...hopefully for the long haul, but one can never be too sure these days.  Without purposefully doing so, I ended up taking a three month break from writing about the garden.  That's not to say that I haven't been busy gardening or that I've lost interested in this blog. Only that I'd suffer through a couple of moderate health issues (one of which is pressing me to make some changes to my diet) and had been forced to slow down a bit.  But now that the New Year has arrived, I'm feeling invigorated again.  I have a lot planned for this year and am eager to get going.

In any case, after breezing through a relatively mild December, January has predictably brought with it the sudden reminder of how frigid our New England winters can be.  Temperatures fell to 0 degrees F this past week, which left me scrambling to protect some of our more vulnerable outdoor plants (like my oriental persimmon tree for instance).  Any hopes that we would get through this winter unscathed is gone at this point.  I can only hope that the next two months will be kind to us gardeners and our plants.

One thing I was able to do before the temperatures plunged last week was to dig up the bulk of my Jerusalem artichokes.  This was my first time growing this edible tuber and the results were  interesting to say the least.

 Flashback to November 2013, I'd purchased a single tuber from the produce isle at Whole Foods, cut it up into three chunky pieces and planted them at a spot in the Great Border.  The following spring, they sprouted and the resulting plants grew tall and strong as the growing season progressed.  
 By late September, they were well over 12 feet tall, with long sturdy stems stretched high into the sky and swaying with the breeze.  I can imagine walking through a field of them, looking up at a glowing canopy of golden yellow flowers. 

 Up close, the blooms themselves are simple yet attractive, and in my opinion, perfectly fit for any fall cut-flower arrangement.  Unfortunately, they seem to fade rather quickly with the ever-so-sudden arrival of fall in our part of the world.  By mid-October, the whole plant is suffering and destined for the compost heap.  I left intact the bottom foot of the main stalk to mark where the plants were. 

Fast forward to last week, I decided to lift the stalks and dig for some edible tubers.  And boy did I find them.  I dug in areas up to 2 - 3 feet away from the main stalks and still found them.  So far, I must have harvested about 25 lbs  - all from a single tuber purchased at the grocery store.  And I'm sure there are others that I've missed.  It's a bit unsettling if you ask me to have a plant/vegetable like this, which thrives on neglect and still produces in abundance. I can see how this plant could easily take over an entire garden if allowed to do so.  And so, if you're looking for a crop that produces very high yields with little to no work, this is the vegetable for you. (If there were ever a zombie apocalypse, I know what I'll be growing for sustenance.)

The tubers themselves were fat and completely blemish free.  I peeled and boiled a few, then sauteed them lightly in some melted butter.  The taste?  Well let's just say they're called Jerusalem artichokes for a reason.  They have a flavor and texture that's almost identical to a steamed green globe artichoke heart, without any of the fussed associated with growing or eating the latter.  (Well that's not entirely true.  They tend to propel some eaters into tomorrow if you know what I mean.)

In any case, I will undoubtedly be growing them again. However, I'll be moving the crop to an isolated raised bed to prevent any overly precocious tubers from escaping.  I don't know of any other local gardeners who are growing Jerusalem artichokes, but I hope that some of you will give them a try.  It's the lazy gardener's dream vegetable for sure.  You just dig up the lot and leave behind 1 or 2 tubers for next year's crop.  It couldn't get any simpler.


  1. I read a blog by a fine lady that tried them once--and had warnings out on how rampantly they spread. They are indeed beautiful and tasty, but do be very very careful. She had hers in a raised bed and really had a problem with them spreading.

  2. Welcome back, Thomas - I'm so glad you are feeling better!

    I've actually never tasted Jerusalem artichokes - that is an unbelievable harvest. I hope you were able to catch all the stragglers!

    Ever since I planted mint in my first garden and let it go to seed (bet you there is still mint coming up to this day!), I always get a bit nervous about planting aggressive varieties. I do love artichokes, however - do you think they would grow in a large pot?

  3. I'm so glad you're back.

    I've always been afraid of planting them. I've heard such stories about them taking over. I did once plant them in a half barrel, and they did OK but I found their tubers too small. Yours on the other hand are huge. Those would be worth growing. Not in my yard though. It is such a tiny spot and I have no room for them.

  4. Amazing how we can take a root from something and it multiplies and sprouts! Very nice.

  5. Lovely chokes! I think the flowers sort of smell like chocolate, at least my plants do. Unfortunately I am one who cannot digest them, so I give them away.

  6. Hi Thomas! I've just linked to you through Our Happy Acres. I have my own jerusalem artichokes here and have had them at previous locations for years. I have also received my fair share of warnings from fellow gardeners. They absolutely will spread like crazy wherever they get planted but I think they can be managed with regular harvests. On my drive to work, I pass fields of them growing and they are really a beautiful sight.