Contrary to popular belief, Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes, nor are they native to Middle Eastern city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem artichokes are a member of the sunflower family and are sometimes called “sunchokes” or “earth apples.” This vegetable is an herbaceous perennial that produces tubers that have a crunchy texture similar to that of water chestnuts.
Jerusalem artichoke plants are similar in appearance to sunflowers with their large yellow flower petals and towering stalks. Jerusalem artichoke roots are similar in appearance to potatoes. Once cooked, Jerusalem artichokes have a soft, nutty flavor. This vegetable is native to North America.
The slightly sweet flavor of Jerusalem artichokes makes them an ideal substitute for potatoes in many recipes. Many cooks prepare them sautéed, roasted, stir fried or steamed.
Jerusalem artichokes can be grown in most climates. While they do prefer a sunny dry location, they will do quite well in partially shaded areas as long as drainage is adequate. This vegetable plant can reach a height of up to 8′ so place it where it doesn’t overshadow other shorter crops in the garden.
Select an area of your garden that will get at least six hours of sunlight daily. Add a five inch layer of compost or dried manure to the soil. The compost or manure will provide nutrients to the growing plants and aid drainage. Turn the soil to a depth of about 24″. The more deeply the soil is loosened, the bigger the tubers become. This vegetable can be grown in rows 18″ wide and 36″ apart. You can also grow Jerusalem artichokes in large pots or in raised beds.
Jerusalem artichokes can be started by using sections of a tuber you purchased from your local garden supply store. Plant the tuber sections 6″ deep and 24″ apart. The cuttings should begin to produce roots and shoots within about four weeks. Keep the soil around Jerusalem artichokes moist but not wet. Add a three inch layer of dried straw mulch around the plants to preserve moisture when they are about 12″ tall. This is also a good time to add stakes or a trellis to help support the tall central stems.
The roots of Jerusalem artichokes are quite invasive and can spread throughout your garden. To prevent this, many gardeners plant the tuber sections in thin-walled wooden baskets buried in the soil. Other gardeners simply use large planters placed above ground. Containers should be at least 12″ deep and 12″ in diameter.
Jerusalem artichokes are ready to harvest in 4-5 months, after the leaves have started to turn yellow. At this time, the tubers should be 3″-4″ in length. Cut off the flower heads when the plants start to form buds. This will increase the size of the tubers and improve the yield of each plant.
When it’s time to harvest, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the plants. Remove the tubers from the plants and shake the soil from the tubers. You can rinse the tubers with clean water and let air dry. Peel some of the skin covering the tubers, keeping in mind that most of the nutrients are found in the skin. Cut back the stems to ground level after harvesting and before winter sets in. Cover the area around the plants with straw mulch and the shoots will sprout again in spring.
Jerusalem artichokes can survive the cold of winter in a state of dormancy. You can continue to harvest full sized tubers throughout winter.
Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw or added to soups, stews and casseroles to give these dishes a bit of crunchiness. This vegetable is low in calories and high in fiber and protein. Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of potassium, calcium, iron and other nutrients. They also contain good amounts of Vitamins A and C.