Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also known as sunchoke in the US, is often used for pickling purposes. They’re tasty, available all winter, exceptionally easy to grow, completely undemanding, very low-maintenance and ideal for gardening beginners. This large plant is a perennial sunflower native to North America. The fresh tuber tastes like a water chestnut and is used in salads. Tubers can also be cooked like potatoes.
While they do have pretty yellow flowers, they are grown for their edible roots, which are high in inulin.The edible tuber is highly nutritious and, unlike potatoes, contains no starch, but rather carbohydrate in a form that is metabolized into natural sugar.
Planting. The tubers grow in just about any soil. This means that they’re often relegated to a difficult area of the garden. Jerusalem artichoke needs full to partial sun, moist conditions, and soil containing fertile loam. Plant tubers 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) deep, 12 to18 inches (30 to 45 cm) apart.
This crop is adapted to various soil types and cultural conditions. However, for best results, it should be planted in fertile sandy loams or well-drained river bottoms in which tubers are easier to dig. Generally soils suitable for potato (Solanum tuberosum) and corn (Zea mays) production are suitable for Jerusalem artichoke production.
Growing. Jerusalem artichoke is aggressive and escapes from garden settings. The stems are light green to reddish brown, terete, and hairy; the stem hairs are white, widely spreading, and slightly stiff. Either opposite or alternate leaves occur along lower to middle stems of this plant, while alternate leaves occur along the upper stems. There is some variation across populations to what extent the leaves are opposite or alternate. During hot dry weather, the leaves may wilt conspicuously or the lower leaves may fall off, but this plant recovers readily after significant rainfall.
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. Jerusalem artichoke produces knobbly, white-fleshed (or, less commonly, red-fleshed) tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked. The crop should not be harvested until after frost (around late fall in the northern hemisphere). Tubers dug later in the season are sweeter but have less inulin.
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t easy to store well but one of their advantages is that they’re quite happy left in the ground until you need them. If your ground tends to freeze, mulch well to ensure that you can extend the harvest period. If you do need to store them, ensure you put them somewhere very cool and with high humidity to help prevent them from shrivelling.