Sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes, sunroots, fartichokes – all names for a North American native related to the sunflower. This is a perennial plant that produces edible knobby tubers. And by perennial, I mean they could be invasive if not properly managed. I obtained several at the Foods Not Lawns seed swap this last January. Planting them in the back of my garden in March, I just let them go without much assistance. I did have to fence them in inside my fence as one groundhog acquired a taste for them, but once the sunchokes got tall enough (4 feet or so), the critters couldn’t get to them. The sunchokes ended up getting 10 feet or so tall with pretty sunflower-like flowers on them. On 11/17/2013, I dug them up, bringing in several buckets full – way more than I would have imagined. Also, it seems like they don’t store all that well (some shriveling up within a week), but was able to keep them in the buckets with some dirt on top through the spring.
My understanding is that it’s hard to get rid of sunchokes once they are planted. The roots are very long and grow everywhere. If you miss any while digging, you will have more sunchokes next year. Also, the flowers produce seeds, which will produce even more sunchokes. I believe I’m in trouble next year as I had both roots and seeds I’m sure I missed. The only saving grace is that the leaves and stems make good mulch (read that in a permaculture book recently), so I’ll just be cutting any unwanted stalks down. I’m definitely a mulch believer – the more the better.
The reason for people calling them fartichokes is that some people can’t digest sunchokes, much like lactose intolerance. I didn’t have that issue at first as we only had a small amount. I pushed it the next day and apparently ate too many (oh, my aching stomach). The Turnip, Apple, and Sunchoke soup I made next was much better and didn’t affect me at all. I think the secret is moderation (which is not my strong suit).