Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Sunchokes

This past week has brought us some cold days. Our first frost, a hard frost, snow, and low temperature down around 17 F. There are rumors of some warm weather on the weekend -- maybe a chance to do some clean-up. At least the snow didn't stay yet.

This post is really a year-end review of our sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes / Helianthus tuberosus). This is our first year with this plant of the sunflower genus. We planted tubers in mid-May as soon as we got them. Over the season they grew 9 feet tall, provided wonderful flowers, and have yielded an abundance of edible tubers. On to the details...

We planted 1 lb of tubers on 5/13/2009; cut into sections to make five plants.

(Helianthus tuberosus: sunchoke seed tubers)

A suitable site was found away from other beds -- just in case they spread. The first shoots appeared early June after about 25 days. Next year they should be much earlier as the native stands (in the ground since last fall) seem to have emerged a month sooner.

(A 5x2' bed; First sprouts June 7)

It was a cool spring, but the plants grew to 1' after 40 days.
(Growing up June 22)

Early July the plants where a foot taller...reaching Dakota dog height.

(Sunchokes at least 2' by July 10)

By August they were forming a nice screen at 4 feet. They were as tall as our chain-link fence.

(Climbing to 4' - August 9)

Two more feet were gained by September (5-6' total).

(Sunchokes - September 5)

Early to mid-September flower buds were forming at about 115 days. I was excited that we would have a chance for flowers. The sunchokes in the park were already in full bloom.

(Buds on September 13)

Mid-September the plants were towering at 7-8 feet. That shade was a favorite resting spot for Dakota...

(Sunchokes 8' - 9/13/2009)

In fact, she decided to dig a little and exposed some tubers near the surface under the grass mulch.

(Sunchoke tubers near the surface)

Later in September the plants peaked in height ranging from 7.5 to 9 feet tall. They finally began to flower after 131 days. Again, I expect next year they will flower a month sooner.

(Sunchoke flowers - September 26)

We had a great display of the plants in near full bloom at the start of October. The plants shut down after a hard frost around 10/10/2009. I'll have to post a picture of the plants after hard this hard freeze.

(October 6)

After the frost I harvested 2 of 5 plants. We will save the others a little longer and come up with some storage options. We will place a few tubers right back in for next years crop. I did notice that maybe our ground was a bit too hard as the tubers were in a very tight block. Conveniently contained, but hard to separate. We will see next year if this was due to soil or the variety (after digging the soil should be much looser next year).

(Sunchokes lifted from ground - 10/11/2009)

Those 2 plants gave 9 lb 13.2 oz of tubers....that's a yield ratio of 24.56:1 based on 1 lb planted! Compare that with our 5 lb of potatoes that yielded 31.31 lb for a ratio of 6.26:1. That's also not considering that the sunchokes took maybe half the space of the potatoes and no additional water or maintenance.

(Half bucket of sunchoke tubers)

As a food, the tubers have tasted great so far. They have a similar number of calories as potatoes from what I could find. We haven't been too creative yet...tried boiled, microwaved, and baked and fairly plain with just some butter and salt they have a potato-like flavor. I tried baking some as chips and noticed that the skin seems to have more sugar than potatoes and can caramelize and burn (didn't taste so good). So for chips I still like the potatoes, but we have a lot more to experiment with.

(Clean tuber)

That's it. A fun experiment for the year and a plant we will keep forever in the garden....not that we likely have a choice :-)