Jerusalem artichokes are not related to what we commonly call artichokes. This is important, since Jerusalem artichokes are a species of sunflower, so they have totally different requirements as compared to globe artichokes.
The Jerusalem artichoke is a plant that grows from a tuber and which doesn’t attain a great height, as does the oil sunflower, though it isn’t uncommon for them to grow in excess of five feet tall.
Both the seeds and the tuberous roots are edible, and the plant can be grown from either. The flower heads are smaller than in the oil sunflower and the seeds are correspondingly smaller. The tubers have a pleasant nutty flavor similar to water chestnuts, and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Unlike other vegetable such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, the tubers are very low in starch, which makes them terrific for anyone on a low starch or starch-restricted diet.
Growing Jerusalem artichokes is the same in many regards to growing any sunflower. They are often grown as an annual, though because of the tuber, it is actually a perennial. Like all members of the sunflower family, Jerusalem artichokes are hardy plants that grow well in poor soil. Best growth however is in porous soil that drains well. This plant also has a preference for cooler climates and does well in the northern part of the US and in cooler European countries.
When planting by seed, plant directly into the ground as soon as the ground can be worked. The seeds should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep. The plant should also be grown in a place where it can get a lot of sunlight, as it is necessary for the Jerusalem artichoke to flourish.
Planting small sections of the tuber, buried several inches deep, is an even better method of propagation, which usually results in a heavier crop. The tubers should also be planted as early in the spring as the ground can be worked, for best results. Tubers should also be fresh and not dried or damaged.
When planting, allow two feet between plants so they can expand. Growth is usually vigorous, however it is best particularly early in the growing season, to be diligent about weeding around the plants.
Harvest can be heavy, and because of how well Jerusalem artichokes grow, they can become pests in the garden. Harvesting is usually done after frosts in the fall have killed back the plant. The tubers are then dug up and cleaned.
Jerusalem artichokes are plants that require little special attention, however lightly fertilizing or use of good organic compost mulch is helpful in producing larger crops. The flowers are attractive and tend to be great for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.
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