Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Not from Jerusalem, but everywhere else

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), or sunchoke, has its virtues.  It's native to our region, tall with cheerful flowers in the fall.  It produces tasty tubers, edible raw or cooked, that are low in starch and rich in the carbohydrate inulin, often promoted as a healthy choice for diabetics.  It provides good conversational fodder as you explain that it is not an artichoke and has nothing to do with Jerusalem (one theory about the name is that it derives from the Italian girasole, sunflower, because this plant is indeed a variety of sunflower).  I am not against people growing them; in fact I encourage it.

With caution.

Because the one thing you don't want Jerusalem artichokes to do is get out of control.  And that's so hard to prevent.  If you miss a tuber when digging them up in the fall -- if you miss one little sliver of a tuber -- you'll have more plants coming up the next year.  And you never, ever get them all.  Within reason, this is okay -- hey, perennial vegetables are great! -- but it's so easy to let your vigilance slip, or to get tired of digging them up and finding ways to eat them, and then before you know it you have a forest of Jerusalem artichokes.

We let this happen at the Derwood demo garden.  There's a whole section behind a fence which I'm sure started out as a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes, though by the time I joined the garden six years ago it was a large patch, and it only got larger, until it was about a 150-square-foot monocrop.  And then, a couple of years ago, we decided to take action, and to dig up half the patch.  And then we halved it again, and last fall we tried to eliminate all but an area about 3x3.  More sprouted outside that area this spring, so Intrepid Workers dug and dug some more (buckets full).  A couple of weeks ago, we planted strawberries in the cleared area.  Except, whoops.

They're back.  I think this is going to be a long battle.

Intrepid Workers going after the sunchokes
On a similar "so what else is new?" note, we have been digging up potatoes that we missed in last year's harvest.  We always miss a few, and they sprout the next year.  It's uncommon to see this, though:

Somehow we must have missed a whole section of potatoes.  Luckily onions are not too fussy about being disturbed, as we had to dig around and through them to get the potatoes out.

Next week it will finally be warm and not rainy on a Tuesday (I have declared this) and I have approximately one zillion seedlings that need to go in the ground.  We did get some work done yesterday before it started to pour, including building bamboo structures (hurray structures team!) of which you will see photos when they're done.  But I could really use an entire morning of nice weather, thank you.

Here's the Square Foot Garden section of the 100-square-foot demonstration:

It's coming along beautifully!

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