Grow your own body fuel: Jerusalem Artichoke
Why Grow it?
These knobbly roots are not to everyone's liking and they have an unfortunate association with flatulence (they are often nicknamed, rather unimaginatively, fartichokes). On the other hand they are a cinch to grow, suffer no diseases, are exceptionally prolific, will grow pretty much in any soil, and to my mind make for a great winter soup. The tall plants (up to 3m) are grown for their tubers which grow underground.
Sow them exactly as you would spuds – get yourself some artichoke tubers, make a hole about 15cm deep and drop a tuber in to it at every 30cm in a row. Then backfill with soil. Don't worry about including them in any rotation – they can be grown wherever you have the space, but since they grow exceptionally tall, choose your site carefully.
Earth up the plants several times in the season to provide some support to the plant as it grows and also to increase yield. When they are 30cm tall, earth up to 15cm. In the autumn when the leaves go yellow cut the stems right down to ground level and compost them.
You can start harvesting artichokes in October or November and they will stay in the ground quite happily right through the winter. You can remove them and store in a box of sand in a cold (but frost-free), dark shed. They will last until April this way. If left in the ground they will eventually succumb to slugs and they will probably prevent you from preparing the bed for whatever will be grown there next year. Make sure to remove absolutely every last tuber from the soil – otherwise you will be plagued with them growing back next year.
GIY Recommended Varieties
Fuseau and Gerard. The former is a good option for smooth tubers.
Try to make sure you only use the least knobbly tubers to grow from – the smoother the tubers you use to grow plants, the smoother the resulting crop will be. You will know why this is important when you go to peel them.
* Divide large tubers before planting – each one should be about the size of a golf ball.
* You can cut the plants down to 1.5m in late summer. This apparently focuses the plant's energy on tuber production.
Watch GIY tutorials on growing vegetables at www.giyireland.com/videos.