How to Grow Organic Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
Francesca Yorke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

 

Jerusalem artichokes, often called "sunchokes" are a root vegetable that is eaten and prepared much like potatoes. Because Jerusalem artichokes are less starchy, many people who are trying to cut back on carbs prefer them over potatoes.

Jerusalem artichokes are very easy to grow. Maybe too easy. The most common remark I've heard from gardeners who have grown this veggie is that you only have to plant it once and you'll have it forever -- no matter how hard you may try to get rid of it!

This has been my experience as well, but it's hard to complain too much about a plant that provides a hearty harvest and tall yellow flowers as well with little to no effort on my part.

Where to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes will grow well just about anywhere. You can grow them in any climate, in full sun to partial shade. They are perennial in all zones. Jerusalem artichokes aren't fussy about soil -- they will even produce fairly reliably in clay soils. However, they grow best in loose, fertile soil.

Because Jerusalem artichokes are perennial, you'll want to give them their own spot in the garden. They grow tall, so be sure to plant them in an area where they won't shade the rest of your crops (on the north side of a bed would be ideal.)

Planting Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes can be planted in fall, or in spring six to eight weeks before your last frost date -- either way really works fine.

Make sure each tuber you'll be planting has at least one "eye," and plant them three inches deep and about a foot apart. They work well either planted in rows or in blocks; in my garden, I dedicate an entire bed to Jerusalem artichokes and I love the way they look planted this way -- especially when they're in bloom.

How to Grow Organic Jerusalem Artichokes

There really isn't much to do to grow Jerusalem artichokes. Keep the bed weeded early in the season when the plants are small. Mulch with three to four inches or organic matter. I don't even water mine -- they do well enough with no coddling from me. Less coddling (less amending of soil, less watering, no fertilizing) seems to help keep them under control as well -- they have not been nearly as invasive in my garden using these methods.

Pests and Problems

Pests and diseases are pretty much a non-issue for Jerusalem artichokes. The biggest problem you'll have will be keeping them under control. Thorough harvesting each fall will help (you're unlikely to harvest all of the tubers, so you can count on having them every year. Even the tiniest piece of tuber will grow into a plant and produce more tubers!

Harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes

Dig Jerusalem artichokes, preferably with a digging fork to avoid cutting tubers as you try to dig them. You can harvest them anytime, but Jerusalem artichokes are much sweeter and more flavorful after a frost or two. You can dig them as long as your soil isn't frozen. To extend your harvest, add a thick (12 inch) layer of mulch after your first frost -- this will keep your ground from freezing, buying you a few more weeks to harvest your sunchokes.

Recommended Varieties

  • 'French Mammoth White' produced nicely-sized, knobby tubers
  • 'Sugarball' produces small white tubers, excellent for roasting
  • 'Fuseau' produces large, smooth tubers that have a somewhat smoky flavor

Jerusalem artichokes are easy to grow and will come back every year. When I add in their sunflower-like blossoms dancing on the late summer breeze, it's hard to imagine my vegetable garden without them.