Posted on 19 September 2011 by

How to Grow Sunchokes: Sunchoking My Way into the Family

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

When I was dating my soon to be husband, I was introduced to his grandmother.

This woman had survived the depression and lived in several different places while raising three children.

Her married life was full of intrigue and mystery.

Many of those experiences played out like a James Bond movie. As we talked, she introduced me to a vegetable that I had never heard of and being a farm girl I thought I had heard of everything.

So that summer, I was introduced to the sunchoke and one may wonder what in the world is a sunchoke.

I can tell you from experience it is a delightful, perennial vegetable that keeps on giving and giving.

The sunchoke is also known as the Jerusalem artichoke and belongs to the sunflower family. It grows 5 to 10 feet in height and if not contained will spread. The taste of this wonderful vegetable is a cross between a water chestnut and an artichoke.

When growing sunchokes, prepare the garden space so that the soil is loose. This will make harvesting a little easier. Also, place a barrier around the space to prevent the sunchoke from taking over. This barrier will need to be 24 inches deep and can be made from non-pressure treated wood, plastic, or metal.

Another approach is to grow the sunchoke in a container. If this approach is followed make sure the container is at least 18 inches wide. This size is sufficient to hold one plant.

Plant the sunchoke in the garden space 2 to 3 weeks before the local frost-free date. Sunchokes have a long growing season and can take 120 to 150 days to grow before harvesting.

When the sunchoke begins to flower, either cut off the flower stalk or stomp on it. This will encourage the plant to send energy to the tuber instead of to seed production.

When the vegetation dies back, the sunchokes are ready to harvest. They can be dug up with a spading fork and placed in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days or placed in a cool, damp area and stored for up to 5 months. They can even be left in the ground until ready to use. Tubers that are not harvested will provide additional sunchokes the next season.

So until we blog again, may the sun grace your table and your taste buds tingle with delight every time you serve sunchokes.

Just a sidebar to the above story, my future grandmother and I shared many sunchokes together while she shared her life stories and her great gift of tatting. To this day, every time I eat a sunchoke I think of her. When I taught my daughter the lost art of tatting, we too shared a snack of sunchokes and memories.

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