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Why I’m Planting Jerusalem Artichokes (Again)



Welcome back!

It’s still winter (at least for a few more minutes) around here but in lower Alabama and the Florida have panhandle this is actually spring. Things are starting to grow and we have to get stuff in the garden right now including the plant that I both hate and love. I’m going to plant it even though I hate it and I love it because ambivalence is a great motivator.

At the end of last year we dug up our Jerusalem artichokes and I stuck them in this pot with some Mulch, then I covered them up. They could take a lot of cold but I didn’t want them where they were.

This area right here behind me is where I had my yams this last year and I’m going to switch out and put some Jerusalem artichokes in here but when I went and checked on these the other day, I realized they are starting to grow.

They actually really need to get growing in the ground right now. Some of them are rotten but that doesn’t matter, we’ll plant the good ones.  You can can plant them anytime from the fall to the early spring. I just dig a whole couple inches deep, cover it over, and I leave a little pocket in my mulch. I permanently mulch the rows in my Grocery Row Gardens as much as I can.

We just take these puppies and stick them in the ground and give them at least a couple of feet – usually more like three – and put them in.

Now when you’re keeping them through the winter, I have found out that they really really do not like drying out, so if you’re going to harvest some Jerusalem artichokes and keep them for later, you have to cover them up with something. Or ideally, you simply leave them in the ground. If I left them in the ground all through the winter, they would continue to live because they don’t dry out. But if they get taken out of the ground and I leave them on the counter for a few days, they get dry and rubbery and they kick off on me.

I have lost some really nice Jerusalem artichokes that way. If you buy some through the mail off of Etsy or something, generally you’ll find that they’re nicely packaged in some sort of soil medium because you’ll get a lot of complaints otherwise. They simply just don’t keep.

You’re probably asking “okay so if you don’t like this vegetable why are you planting it?”

Well the animals can eat it. My hogs, my cows – both the tops and the tubers are very good for them to eat.

I don’t like it because I find it near indigestible. People have said different things like, “well if you soak it or you ferment it or you cook it like this or you do like this (you can digest them,” but I don’t really care that much about it to do it – especially when I can turn it into raw milk by feeding it to the cows or I could feed it to the pigs and turn it into bacon or I could feed them to the chickens!

They also make all this beautiful biomass and these lovely flowers. I would grow them just as an ornamental, but if you could feed it to the animals and get your food that way that’s a good reason to grow it.

I might try cooking them again at some point or doing something with them but the amount of intestinal distress they cause is unbelievable. I’ve been growing them for years since I lived in Tennessee from about 2004, and then I had to search for a while to find varieties that grew well in Florida. When I lived in South Florida they did not do well. Quite a few varieties did not do particularly well when I was in Central Florida either, but I planted three or four different types that I got from various places (I have no idea what type or what name I just got different ones from an organic grocery and some online) and I planted them without names, and the ones that made a big mess of roots at the end of the year are the ones that I kept. So that’s what I’m planting right now. The ones that made me a mess of roots last year are the ones.

I’m not going to use this entire bed for Jerusalem artichokes. I just thought if I could expand and have big piles of them that I could feed through the winter when things are hungry, since this is a tuber that keeps in the ground. It initiates tuberization later in the year when it’s blooming, and you get these nice tubers that keep in the ground very nicely all the way through the cold and that’s when things get hungry, when the pasture is gone, when the leaves fall from the trees, etc.

That’s when I really need food for animals, so I thought if I could expand the seed stock that I have and then maybe expand even further next year – maybe even make a big stand of it at some edge of the property since it takes poor conditions. It grows easily, produces a lot of tubers and biomass, so why not? I could have a whole ton of them and just keep things fed all the way through the winter.

(I’ve left my tubers all the way down to the other end where I dumped it.

Are you guys okay? There’s a lot of screaming from the pond. This is not an OSHA approved workspace.)

I used to think that Jerusalem artichokes would be one of those survival staple crops. I did a lot of planting  and research on them but I find that calorically they’re just not easy to digest. In our climate, sweet potatoes and cassava are better and true yams are even better and even white potatoes! These just don’t fill you up that much.

It’s a great theory. They might keep you from starvation but they’re not that great at it and you’ll see it repeated again and again and again on these various survival videos and stuff, about how people keep rediscovering the incredible Jerusalem artichoke. It’s possible, but there’s a reason that potatoes are winning over a lot of other stuff. It’s really hard to beat potatoes they’re enjoyable and filling and the after effects are pretty nice comparative comparatively. They just feel good without a horrible digestive upset afterwards. I would call (Jerusalem artichokes) a secondary survival crop. You can have some and you can eat them if you have to, if you can figure out how to do it. Some people don’t have trouble with digesting them. It may be a genetic thing or a diet thing over time but, secondarily, I would call it a survival crop that’s useful just because it’s such a good animal feed that makes a good amount of biomass on the top. It’s hard to kill, very easy to grow, makes tubers that last even through hard freezes you can hack them out of the ground and feed them to your pig or your cattle – that’s all very useful stuff!

So I’m growing Jerusalem artichokes again and figured I’d bring you along and explain why I would actually grow them even though I have huge ambivalence about them. Really, if it’s a plant, I’m probably going to try and find a way to keep it alive no matter what it is but this has its uses. It’s a good niche crop and keeps my animals fed so that’s why, and biomass, and you know it’s pretty and all that stuff but that’s it that’s where I’m just going to stop today. I don’t really have anything else to say. If I was on Instagram, I would say to go like my posts but I’m not. I could show the fountain again I guess.

If you really want to learn about survival gardening and the stuff that we’ve figured out that works – very simple solutions for the zombie apocalypse – check out the book GROW OR DIE if you’re worried about food security. GROW OR DIE: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

Thanks for joining me. Catch you all next time and until then your thumbs always be green.

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