Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are tubers, like potatoes, but they have a totally different flavour, and are a lot less popular than potatoes.
In spite of the fact that they are called “artichokes”, they are not related to Chinese artichokes (which are also knobbly tubers) or globe artichokes (which are essentially edible flowers).
Jerusalem artichokes are a part of the sunflower family, and some say that the common name (Jerusalem) comes from an Italian word girasole – meaning ‘turning to the sun’. The plant has pretty yellow, daisy-like flowers, and the tuber is not unlike a potato, except that it really is very knobbly.
The leaves of the plant are large – anything from 150 mm to 200 mm (6 to 8 inches) wide, and the plant itself will grow to a height of 1.8 m to 2.1 m (more than 60 feet).
Soil for Growing Jerusalem Artichokes
These tubers will thrive in well-prepared soil that has been well dug over and has had lots of compost and/or manure added to it. It should also drain well.
The optimum pH required is between 6,0 and 6,5.
You might need to add fertiliser to ensure the soil is balance.
Propagation and Planting
Jerusalem artichokes are propagated from tubers that need to be replanted every year. This “seed” is generally not as easy to find as seed potatoes, so once you get your crop established, it’s a worthwhile exercise hanging onto seed tubers from some of the plants that have a high yield and produce nicely shaped tubers that are a decent size.
Ideally look for smooth tubers that are about the size of a hen’s egg, and set them aside in a cool, dry place for the next season’s planting.
The seed tubers should be planted in well-prepared soil in October and November in the southern hemisphere, and April/May in the northern hemisphere.
The procedure you should follow is similar to planting potatoes: set the tubers out between 300 mm and 400 mm (10 to 16 inches) in rows, at a depth of 75 mm to 125 mm (3 to 5 inches), depending on the type of soil in your garden.
Because these plants grow so tall and are so leafy, they are best planted on the edges, or at the back of your veggie garden, or in a position where they won’t produce too much shade for veggies that prefer full sun. If you plant in rows, allow about a metre (at least three feet) between rows.
Attention During the Growing Phase
If you like the taste of Jerusalem artichokes then you’re in luck, because they are very easy to grow, and are not normally prey to disease or pests. They also need very little attention other than normal weeding around them.
If you wish, you can draw the soil up around the tubers to make sure they remain covered.
As the plants grow, you will need to stake them to prevent wind and rain damage which will reduce the volume and quality of your crop.
Harvesting Your Jerusalem Artichoke Crop
Like potatoes, you can harvest Jerusalem artichokes progressively.
While the exact time of harvest will depend on when they were planted, as well as your soil conditions, you should be able to start lifting tubers from February or August, depending where in the world you live, and continue to harvest for about two months or more.