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JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE

Our first experience with a Jerusalem artichoke was an entirely accidental one. We purchased a seedling from a local nursery and were a little baffled with its appearance; more like a sturdy sunflower than the thistle-like globe artichoke we were accustomed. Over the next few months the plant would grow taller than the tallest of our sunflowers, throw out a flower sky high and then began to die back. What a crappy artichoke plant we thought.

With the flower and plant now dead and occupying space and negative energy in the patch we removed it and began preparing the area for something more productive. That is when the treasure lying beneath the surface revealed itself. 10kg of fart fuelling rhizomes – similar in appearance to ginger/yam – that have a similar taste profile to globe artichokes.

The Jerusalem artichoke is a rhizome plant, closely related to – you’ll never guess – the sunflower family. One of the earliest of our spring plants, these rhizomes can find their way into the veggie patch as early as early September (to as late as November) in temperate and cool climates. They will happily lie dormant until the soils heat up, and once they do, they quickly explode into life. Make sure to prepare the soil with plenty of well rotted manure and compost, and allocate sufficient space for their growing requirements.

PLANTING

Plant tubers approximately 10cm deep, each spaced around 50cm apart. Remember that one tuber will potentially grow you 20-30 tubers down the track, so regulate your planting to your desire for this vegetable.

If they are already sprouting, make sure the shoots are pointing upwards. Like potatoes you can cut them into pieces, ensuring that each piece has a bud on it, and plant those.

WATERING

In ground: Water daily for the first 4 weeks and 3-4 times a week in the absence of rainfall thereafter.

In Pots: Water daily, in the absence of rainfall, for the entirety of their growing season.

MAINTENANCE

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 shamefully neglected mine, even through dry spells, and never earthed up, yet still received quite the bounty.

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

After the sunflowers on top blossom, the plant begins to die back signalling the tubers below are ready for harvest. This usually happen in mid autumn.

Use a pitch fork to loosen the soil around the stem and then put on a pair of gloves and begin sifting through the soil. Only take what you need as the tubers are stored best in-ground, particularly in cooler climates; in warmer climates they tend to rot out if left in-ground too long.

Remember that any tuber that is left unharvested will resprout when the soil reheats the following warm season so be thorough when harvesting, if you don’t want them coming back again and again.

TIP

Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin, a carbohydrate that feeds your gut bacteria. It’s part of the reason why this vegetable is low in calories. The less desirable side effect to this is that it also causes wind.

WHEN TO PLANT

Cool/Mountainous: Oct - Nov
Temperate: Sep - Nov
Subtropical: Aug - Oct
Tropical: NA

BEST GROWN FROM

Rhizome

POSITION

Full sun preferred, but will cope with part shade too

DEPTH

Plant your rhizome approximately 10cm deep.

SPACING

50 cm

IDEAL PH LEVEL

5.5 - 7.0

SOIL

Jerusalem artichokes aren't overly fussy with soil - so can grow well in your b-grade spaces - but they will grow better if the soil is free-draining and well integrated with compost and well-rotted chook manure

BEST SUITED TO

Pots, in-ground

GROWING IN POTS?

>30cm

POLLINATION

Not required

CHILL FACTOR

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