A couple of years after we moved on to the croft, we visited a family who live near Alford to collect a wheeled hoe and a pair of wheeled cultivators. While there, they presented us with plastic bag filled with loose soil and a score of odd-looking, nobbly tubers.
‘They’re Jerusalem artichokes,’ was the response to our first question. ‘Just stick them in the ground and they’ll grow like weeds. They’re great in Chinese food but they make some people fart. Our children call them fartichokes.’
It wasn’t one of the greatest introductions we’ve had to a new vegetable, but it was certainly memorable.
When we returned home, we researched Jerusalem artichokes in various gardening books and online, turning up an even more memorable description in my copy of Gerard’s Herbal: John Gerard’s Historie of Plants:
‘Flos Solis Pyramidalis. Jerusalem Artichoke: ‘These rootes are dressed in diuers waies; some boile them in water, and after stew them with sacke and butter, adding a little Ginger: others bake them in pies, putting Marrow, Dates, Ginger, Raisons of the Sun, Sacke, &c. Others some other way, as they are led by their skill in Cookerie. But in my iudgement, which way soeuer they be drest and eaten they stirre and cause a filthie loathsome stinking winde within the bodie, thereby causing the belly to bee pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine, than men…’
More recent gardening books were more kindly disposed towards the Jerusalem artichoke so we decided to plant them and see how they turned out. They did indeed grow like weeds and they are excellent in Chinese-style stir fries. Our pigs love the excess ones. As for the wind effect, we’ll leave that to others to discover for themselves.
Several gardening books recommend planting Jerusalem artichokes in locations where brassicae were grown the previous year. Unfortunately, no reason is given for this advice. We don’t follow it as we grow artichokes in the fields and pens after the pigs have moved on.
Artichokes are said to prefer warm conditions, but we’ve found they grow well in our cool to cold climate. We plant the tubers in sunny, well-drained positions on the hill, in well cultivated soil that the pigs have left well-manured. If we were growing them elsewhere, we’d incorporate well-rotted manure into the soil the autumn before planting.
We have no idea which variety of Jerusalem artichoke we grow. The tubers are smaller than the varieties available in garden centres and are much more knobbly. We suspect this makes them an older variety as the modern ones are large and smooth.
The variety we’ve seen most often in seed catalogues is Fuseau, but from time to time we’ve spotted New White, Stampede and Challenger.
We plant the tubers in mid-March, using a ridging hoe—which has a triangular blade—to make furrows 150mm deep at intervals of one metre. The tubers are set along the bottom of the furrow at half metre intervals, then covered and ridged to a depth about 50mm above the natural ground level.
When the stems come through and reach about 150mm in height, we ridge them again by using a hoe to pull another 30-40mm of soil around the stems. We keep ridging the artichokes every fortnight or so, until the ridge is about 150mm above the ground level.
The plants grow quite tall, most reach more than five feet and some hit six feet, so we find it necessary to stake them or our gales blow them over. We drive an agricultural fence post in at the ends of each row, running two or three wires between them. The plants are tied to the wires with soft string.
We weed the Jerusalem artichokes about once a fortnight. Other than that and the ridging, we don’t do anything else. We get enough rain for needs of the plants, we’ve had no pests and we’ve had no diseases.
Gardening books refer to cutworms, root aphids, swift moth and sclerotinia disease as potential problems, but they’ve remained theoretical for us.
The plants begin to turn brown in late September or early October, at which point we cut them off at ground level. The tubers are left for a week or two, then lifted in the same manner as potatoes—by turning the ridges over with a fork. We don’t overwinter them in the ground as the soil can freeze down to 50cm or more.
The tubers are stored in tubs of sand: 50mm on the bottom, then alternating layers of jerusalem artichokes and sand. As the pigs go back in after the tubers are lifted we don’t worry about missing any.
However, if we grew them in a garden we’d have to be extremely thorough in finding every tuber as even the smallest ones grow.
All in all, we’ve found them quite a useful and robust addition to the range of vegetables we grow on the croft.
- Pan-fried Jerusalem artichokes (nutrisue.ca)
- Jerusalem artichokes with garlic, rosemary, and chives (saffronandhoney.com)
- The Ole’ Saturday Homesteading Trading Post No. 14 and Jerusalem Artichokes Another Way To Prep In The Garden (lilsuburbanhomestead.wordpress.com)