December 30th and the Heat Wave continues. High was over 50 today, so making lemons of my lemonade (I live in Wisconsin because I like Winter) I decided to do some harvesting. Pitchfork in hand I attacked a small portion of one of my three Sunchoke beds. The picture at right is my take-just shy of 2.5 lbs of glorious tubers. Some are the size of medium potatoes-topping 3oz! These 2.5 lbs came from about 4 sq feet of bed, and this is their first season so density should improve. I have about 200sq ft of Sunchoke beds so I figure I have about 100lbs still to dig up!

So why am I so jazzed up about these knobby little buggers? First off they’re native-Lewis and Clark ate them in North Dakota. Secondly they’re basically perennial-you can never find all the tubers, so the stand regrows annually. They are a multipurpose plant-they grow like weeds-reaching up to 9′ (mine hit 6-7′ their first year) providing massive biomass and a decent late season wind/site break. Lastly they store best in the soil so I don’t need a root cellar to keep them fresh-just mulch the beds to keep the ground workable and dig as needed! The best part for me is that from July on they are crowned with a riot of glorious little sunflowers-and I love sunflowers. I planted them after seeing them in virtually every Permaculture book I came across, and they also fit nicely in my quest to grow some actual “calorie” crops in addition to all the nutritional veggies. Speaking of which here is the low down on the Sunchoke:

Nutritional Highlights (from
Jerusalem artichoke (raw, sliced), 1 cup (150g)Calories: 114Protein: 3.0gCarbohydrate: 26gTotal Fat: 0.015gFiber: 2.4g*Excellent source of: Iron (5.1mg)*Good source of: Potassium (643mg), and Vitamin C (6.0mg)

This compares pretty favorably with the Potato, and given the flowers, built in storage, and perennial tendencies it was really no contest. To drive the stake in even further the Sunchoke has no pests and recieved absolutely zero care all year-a true sow and forget crop that is perfect for organic gardening. No wonder the Permacultrists love it!

Serving suggestion are myriad. Use them anywhere you would a normal spud-we’ve mashed them, put them in skillets and into bakes-just be ready for their nutty taste. Because of that taste they also like to mimic water chestnuts in stir fry and radishes in salads.

Sourcing them isn’t hard-our Whole Foods carries them in season, just buy what you need and plant them in the spring-given them a good drained bed, dig 4″ deep furrows and give them about 6″ spacing. Be sure you really want them there for good-they are virtually impossible to remove!

2 Responses

  1. Sunchokes really like to expand their territory. How do you contain them so they don’t overtake your yard?

  2. Sorry, I am day dreaming of an enitre yard full of sunchokes… Talk about a beautiful, edible yard!

    Seriously though, I ensure that they are up against something tough like my Comfrey or a stonewall. On the lawn side I just mow the shoots weekly. It has not been much of an issue so far, but I put alot of thought into where I wanted them first so that if they did expand it was either in a good way (sight break) or an area that would self control like the lawn (mowing) or a path (walking).

    In a mixed garden bed they would be completely out of control within a few seasons. You could treat them like bamboo and build an underground barrier like a buried rubbermade with the bottom cut out to keep them in check. Some people plant them in raised beds made of old tires, like potatos. This also make the harvest easier.

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