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The great big thread of sunchoke info - growing, storing, eating/recipes, science facts

 
gardener
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This thread seems to have all the varieties of ways of calling these things, so I thought I'd just add the Japanese term: kikuimo (菊芋) "kiku" is the Japanese for chrysanthemum (and the whole asterids family as well) and "imo" means tuber or yam. So we get an extremely accurate reading: asterid tuber!
 
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Location: West-central Pennsylvania
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When I researched to find out the greens are allelopathic and retard competitors from sprouting and spreading, I found that the chemicals they release are trace amounts of aspirin and coumarin. Aspirin is bitter and I don't know about the taste of coumarin. Coumarin is processed to make the blood med Coumadin which leads me to think that it might be the combined taste or the combined effects of both on blood that might keep grasshoppers away. The chemicals don't deter aphids since ants farm mats of aphids on the soft green tips of mine until Paper wasps and Yellow Jackets find them and clean house! The aphids don't appear to hurt the tips at all, so I leave nature take it's course. The wasps and YJs do a fine job of keeping aphids off all my other garden and yard plants so that's another reason I don't fight the wasps.
I found where the Native Americans dried and stored the leaves for medicinal tea for aches and pains, even arthritis pain. Since the aspirin and coumarin are in small trace amounts, I don't have a clue how much tea leaves a person would use. I've read where the leaves can be used like grape leaves as food wraps in Mediterranean dishes, so just for spits and giggles this summer, I picked a good handful of green leaves and boiled half and pan fried half. I used Olive oil for the pan fried batch and they tasted like ... Olive oil. They were so crisp they melted on the tongue and there was no hint to their hairy texture. The ones I boiled had a definite squash flavor and weren't bad at all, matter of fact, they were pretty good! I drank the tea and it too had a solid squash flavor, again, not bad at all! I boiled them for only 5 minutes and the hairy texture was mostly gone, just a couple more minutes and I'm sure it would have been totally gone. I can see where they could easily be used in Mediterranean dishes. They were amazingly soft and tender. I imagine they could be flavored with herbs and spices and even butter and ought to be good prepared like dandelions and endive with white sauce and bacon.
 
pollinator
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My sunchokes bloom abundantly in October, providing food for bees and butterflies. But since the seeds are not viable, am I supposed to remove the tops so energy won't  go to the seed heads? Will the seed heads feed birds later on?  I snapped some plants shorter since high wind just blew them sideways. Has anybody compared yields with or without deheading the flowers/seeds?
 
pollinator
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May Lotito wrote:My sunchokes bloom abundantly in October, providing food for bees and butterflies. But since the seeds are not viable, am I supposed to remove the tops so energy won't  go to the seed heads? Will the seed heads feed birds later on?  I snapped some plants shorter since high wind just blew them sideways. Has anybody compared yields with or without deheading the flowers/seeds?




In Wisconsin also, sunchokes bloom late. As of 10/11, we still have not had a frost this year and I have a few measly blooms. Maybe they 'know' that we could have a frost any day now. We are well past the date [September 24th] when we can expect a frost. So soon to be 3 weeks past the due date for a frost.
Indeed, these blooms will not make viable seeds but they do provide late pollen that may be stored in the hive for next spring. If I see my honeybees on them, I hate to clip the sunchoke flowers, but allowing the flowers to persist will probably reduce the yield which, since sunchokes are incredibly generous is not a big deal for me. I've planted buckwheat to coincide with the end of the growing season: Most likely, I won't get buckwheat seeds either, but my bees get the nectar and pollen.
Sunchokes are perennials, so depending if you want to harvest them for food or just keep a hedge going, you might want to clip the blooms and bet bigger tubers. Incidentally, I do not know if you would get bigger tubers or more of them.
I suspect the genetic qualities will dictate that.  We would have to do a side by side comparison for that. You are right to assume that you might get more sunchokes tubers by weight by removing the flowers before they bloom: A plant, any plant, can gather only so much energy where it is planted, and then, according to the calendar, 'decide' to make more tubers or more blooms, but it can only spend the energy it has gathered.
Maybe in a warmer zone, the blooms would give you seeds? I know that in my zone [4b] it does not pay to try and get seeds: For production and improving the line, I look only at tubers.
An advantage is that the tubers will carry all the genetics of the parent plant. Seeds, on the other hand would carry the genetics of mom and dad, so if you are looking to have a good landrace, proper selection of the tubers are where to start.
Since I have a very sandy ground, I plant them high [a couple of inches plus generous mulch cover] in a deep bed [like 12" boards]. This way, even if they are tempted to roam, they won't go as far. and I can select for closeness to the parent plant too.
Also, I plant them in the fall since they seem immune to 40 below zero weather if underground. [but in my unheated garage, they will freeze dry and die. Ask me how I know!] We have a short season, and in the Spring, there are too many things to do all at once, so garlic and sunchokes go in this month or early November at the latest.
You mentioned that the wind has blown them down. This, more than the flowers might have interrupted their production, depending how badly they were knocked down: Did the main stem actually break? [sunchokes, like trees will gather strength for next year through their leaves: The tubers they are forming are dependent on how long the plant can remain intact, gathering energy, above ground. If they are mowed down, they can't return energy to the tubers, so... Just saying you might harvest the plants that have totally collapsed and whose stem is snapped through. If you have some of similar size that didn't snap through, you could tell us is you got more tuber of bigger ones by clipping the flowers?
 
May Lotito
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Thanks for the reply.  I planted these tubers too shallow on heavy clay soil. They grew very well though, up to 12 ft with branching flower stems at the end. These all make them very unstable in high wind. One clump ( from a single tuber) was totally uprooted so I dig out all the tubers. They were all within top 1 ft of soil and weighed over 8 lbs. Quite a surprise as I thought they wouldn't filled out so much until the above ground parts die back.

I will let other clumps die back and compare the yield to the early harvest.
P1150635.JPG
Sunchoke patch
Sunchoke patch
P1150795.JPG
Wind damage and early harvest
Wind damage and early harvest
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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May Lotito wrote:Thanks for the reply.  I planted these tubers too shallow on heavy clay soil. They grew very well though, up to 12 ft with branching flower stems at the end. These all make them very unstable in high wind. One clump ( from a single tuber) was totally uprooted so I dig out all the tubers. They were all within top 1 ft of soil and weighed over 8 lbs. Quite a surprise as I thought they wouldn't filled out so much until the above ground parts die back.

I will let other clumps die back and compare the yield to the early harvest.



Wow, these plants are real beauties. Mine were more like 7 ft. high with less flowers. Do you think maybe the reason they didn't go as deep was the heavy clay soil? My tubers look so similar to yours, and yes, they went about 1 ft. deep for the deepest, although most were within 8". Mine also branched at soil level, like yours in the picture.
Do you remember the cultivar? Mine were Starwhite cluster sunchokes from Oikos. What I like is that they are a rare company that is trying to improve sunchokes by characteristics, like : Clusters around the parent plant and taste, too,  like "no piney taste", uniform size/ shape...  Those are the reasons I selected Starwhite, and I'm very happy with that choice and I will order again.
I didn't weigh my tubers but the pile you show in the picture is similar to what I got from my best plant. Beautiful white roots that would be easy to peel, with no knobs, and really delicious, not "gassy" either.
I think that in order to get nice big uniform roots is to make sure to remove all of them in the Fall, select your best and replant within a month, like garlic. I think it is the roots that are abandoned and allowed to go the next year are the ones that get very contorted, as every eye starts another root. Also, those will roam far and wide and make a nuisance of themselves. Having loose soil in the bed about 1 ft deep also makes it easier to locate all the tubers.
One thing I noticed is that when a root travelled to the edge of the bed and encountered the wooden edge, they went deep on me and right there, made a tuber, to the point that to locate most tubers, I lifted the bed, and that is where I found most of the tubers that were not tight to the parent plant.  A good many were right under the vertical barrier or inches before or after the bed limit. I mentioned it to Oikos and they said yes: When the plant meets a barrier is when they stop and the energy/ food that the plant is sending down causes the tuber to swell, so that is why, if not time, a barrier will cause the formation of a tuber. That is also why I plant them in deep beds.
In my sand, they could roam really far if there was not some form of containment, and it would be hard to harvest all of them. I won't complain about my sand, though because digging the tubers by hand is really easy: I didn't even use a pitchfork to lift them: I grabbed the stems of the plants and pulled and 60-70% of the tubers came with the plant. All I had to so was shake the sand off! Then, I just used my hands to run after the ones that I didn't get by lifting. Sunchokes are a staple in my garden, like potatoes.
 
May Lotito
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:
I think that in order to get nice big uniform roots is to make sure to remove all of them in the Fall, select your best and replant within a month, like garlic.



I bought mine off local craigslist: $20 for 4 lbs, freshly dug out of ground. I probably ate too much at a time and got gassy so I grew them as privacy screens mostly. But today I tried moderate amount and so far so good 6 hours later. Guess sunchoke will be a staple food for me too.

I plan on doing the same: remover all the tubers and sort them out. Only the biggest one will be planted back for next season and smaller ones cooked or pickled.

 
Blaine Clark
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The only flowers I trim are for wine and I don't trim all the flowers off of any plant. I leave them on for the bees. None of mine have ever produced seed. I've even tried cross pollination by brush, even though it's apparent that bees travel between each patch. I've tossed in a picture of ones I dug on 10/9. The soil in this patch has been amended only with the shredded stalks of the tops and a couple treatments with lime early on, several years ago. From the size of the tubers I'd hazard a guess that at least with mine, deadheading them probably wouldn't make much difference in size of tubers or quantity.
20211006_155022.jpg
A sample from the first 5 gallon bucket I've dug from the early variety. The brush is a shoeshine brush for size comparison.
A sample from the first 5 gallon bucket I've dug from the early variety. The brush is a shoeshine brush for size comparison.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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May Lotito wrote:

Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:
I think that in order to get nice big uniform roots is to make sure to remove all of them in the Fall, select your best and replant within a month, like garlic.



I bought mine off local craigslist: $20 for 4 lbs, freshly dug out of ground. I probably ate too much at a time and got gassy so I grew them as privacy screens mostly. But today I tried moderate amount and so far so good 6 hours later. Guess sunchoke will be a staple food for me too.
I plan on doing the same: remover all the tubers and sort them out. Only the biggest one will be planted back for next season and smaller ones cooked or pickled.



Yep, that was pretty much the price I paid.
Major disappointment: Oikos is now out of business on all their plants. still selling a few seeds, they say, but the ones I tried were "out of stock".
I have about a dozen sunchokes left to plant, so I'll get busy on this tomorrow. but I'm dumbfounded. I thought they were a great company and Poof. without an explanation, they are out. Very sad.
 
May Lotito
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I am considering planting medium size tubers rather than the big onesback in the ground. I dug up several more clumps  as the top starting to die back. Clumps with 3 to 4 stems yield 13 lbs on average, good size and evenly distributed.  And for the biggest plant with 8 stems, also the one that toppled over in the storm, the area 2 ft wide and 1 ft deep was filled with tubers. So many got no room to grow they were squeezed flat. The yield was over 30 lbs from this single plant. I had to dig a bigger hole in ground to put them back for storage.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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May Lotito wrote:I am considering planting medium size tubers rather than the big onesback in the ground. I dug up several more clumps  as the top starting to die back. Clumps with 3 to 4 stems yield 13 lbs on average, good size and evenly distributed.  And for the biggest plant with 8 stems, also the one that toppled over in the storm, the area 2 ft wide and 1 ft deep was filled with tubers. So many got no room to grow they were squeezed flat. The yield was over 30 lbs from this single plant. I had to dig a bigger hole in ground to put them back for storage.



Did you plant them in a raised bed? Or do you have a special plant that doesn't sprawl? or both? [It sounds like that because in a square 2 ft wide and 1 ft deep you got so many tubers]
Interesting that you are looking at the ones sprouting more stems as being different [and better= giving you a better yield?]
What any tuber will yield is pretty much written in the genetics, and amended by the soil it is placed in.
I envision that you planted a whole tuber, with many eyes, and each sprouted and gave you a stem. Is that what happened?
If the tubers were crowded that might be why. Technically, you can cut the tubers just like you cut potatoes, with one eye on each piece. Then, they should no be so crowded. The ones I got from Oikos were great: they didn't run all over the countryside. I had them in raised beds though, too.
If you are comparing one small tuber with one eye and one large tuber with one eye, my intuition says that the bigger one has gathered more energy, so should give you a better yield.
However there is a limit to this: If you were to plant a large tuber in very poor soil, It might not give much, and conversely, a smaller tuber is a great soil will outpace the big tuber quickly. For each cultivar, there is a possible range of yields, with an upper and lower limit. Also, is your soil sandy, like mine? Roots will travel a bit father in sand than they will in clay.
If you make 2 beds, one with large tubers and one with smaller tubers, but both of them in great soil, you will get your answer. Please let us know how they compare. This is very interesting to me.
 
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I heard that in order to have viable seeds you have to have multiple types to cross pollinate. I get viable seeds off mine, I have 5 varieties mixed (about to add a 6th!) I do have birds eating them, if yours are not viable, I vote leave them for the birds. I cut my stalks, take some of the seeds for myself, and leave the rest piled standing against the fence, and the birds clean them up.

I noticed that when there is something on the ground the tubers form right under it. I didn't get to it this year, but I plan to throw boards or something similar in my bed to see if the tubers would arrange themselves nicely for me  :D  

Mine go deep, and are pretty difficult to dig up as there are tree roots in the area too. I only harvest the top ones, let the rest keep the bed going (as well as the fallen seeds) and they were over 15 feet high this year (weird weather, lots of rain and flooding.) I had a rowdy batch of flowers, won't be digging for a while (don't have time) but am curious how many tubers they made when so tall and heavily rained on.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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I guess in Missouri you might be able to get seeds, Pearl, but here, although we got nice flowers, none of them made it to the seed stage. If bees had not been fond of them, I might have clipped the tops to get bigger tubers.
Long story short, I can't get seeds to cross pollinate and get new types.
That is why I really counted on Oikos seeds to stay in business: They were doing the hard work of selecting and reselecting tubers for various characteristics. Unfortunately, they went out of business.
Interesting what you said about tubers forming right under a hard cover. I would be afraid that these darn mice would love it under there.
The tubers seem to form as soon as the root is impeached, so in a raised bed, that would be the vertical walls. The other place where they formed: Right under the edge of the walls, to the point that to gain better access, I just flipped the bed over and right under the edges, I got some of my best tubers so maybe there is something to the effect that if compressed down, they would swell a tuber there?
 
May Lotito
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:Also, is your soil sandy, like mine? Roots will travel a bit father in sand than they will in clay.
If you make 2 beds, one with large tubers and one with smaller tubers, but both of them in great soil, you will get your answer. Please let us know how they compare. This is very interesting to me.



My soil is poor compact clay. I dug small holes and buried the tubers 2 inches deep and covered the area with oak leaves. When the plant produced lots of tubers, they couldn't go much deeper and formed a mound above ground. I guess if I keep on improving the soil and it turns more soft and friable, the tubers should be less crowded. I'd like to find out the maximum yield from the biggest tuber growing in rich soil.
P1160359.JPG
The stems, the hole and over 30 lbs of chokes from one plant
The stems, the hole and over 30 lbs of chokes from one plant
P1160372.JPG
crowded
crowded
 
Pearl Sutton
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Link from the Mother Earth News newsletter today...  
Recipe for Potato and Jerusalem Artichoke Latkes

The article mentions the low glycemic index of the sunroots also.

And if anyone else has more root crops going also, from the same mailing:
Sweet Potato Latkes Recipe with Almond Crème Fraîche
I still need to see if I have sweet potatoes out there. Had lots of vines!
 
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I just opened that same link, in my email, Pearl. It looks really yummy, though I don't see me going with the almond creme fraiche, lol. I just got my hands on some sweet potatoes, last week. Now, I'm trying to decide - eat 'em, try to grow slips from 'em(meaning find appropriate storage for them, in the meantime), or shred and dehydrate 'em, for later...
 
May Lotito
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I found another use for sunchoke tubers: chicken food. They always came over and pecked on the tubers when I was digging. Leaving whole tubers for the chicken is too wasteful so I dice a few into tidbit everyday as feed. They are  more welcomed in cold days, when water freezes easily and the chickens can get some moisture without wetting their wattles.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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May Lotito wrote:I found another use for sunchoke tubers: chicken food. They always came over and pecked on the tubers when I was digging. Leaving whole tubers for the chicken is too wasteful so I dice a few into tidbit everyday as feed. They are  more welcomed in cold days, when water freezes easily and the chickens can get some moisture without wetting their wattles.



Great idea: when I lift them, there are always a few that get damaged, as well as the entire rest of the plant: they appreciate the greenery.
At hunting time, deer like to munch on these very sweet roots [after a frost, they are sooo sweeet. They can have the damaged ones, the tiny ones, the "impossible to peel" sunchokes.
In exchange, we can get deer too.
 
May Lotito
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I have been tasting the sunchoke tubers harvested in different times, the later ones are less earthy and raw but still not sweet. Once I sampled a jar a unfinished fermented sunchoke, one actually was so sweet and crunchy I thought I was eating water chestnut. I was not able to reproduce the result however.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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May Lotito wrote:I have been tasting the sunchoke tubers harvested in different times, the later ones are less earthy and raw but still not sweet. Once I sampled a jar a unfinished fermented sunchoke, one actually was so sweet and crunchy I thought I was eating water chestnut. I was not able to reproduce the result however.



Do you think perhaps it is because you are in zone 6? The ones I eat when I first lift them in the fall [October, November] are indeed not very sweet, but after there has been a frost, or the ones that I get very early in the spring, those are much better. Just like the pumpkins taste better after there has been a "frost on the pumpkin", sunchokes taste better later as well.
Do you have a recipe for "fermented sunchokes"? Would this add perhaps a little sugar, which might make them taste better for you? My sunchokes do not taste "earthy" [like beets for example]. I don't know if it is the cultivar [Starwhite cluster Sunchokes] or what. They taste more "nutty", perhaps, but not earthy.
Unfortunately, in zone 4 WI, the flowers that bloom at the end of the season never form seeds, as it is too late. [My bees can sometime take advantage, though so I don't remove them]. So I cannot improve the strain by seed selection. I can only chose the best sunchoke for replanting, but that isn't the same. [I may be depriving myself of the best tubers, I don't know.]
I do believe that sunchokes, because they are so prolific could develop in a major crop, like potatoes. The main reason they have not, I feel, is that the tubers can be really hard to clean thoroughly[ and some, like the red ones, are really 'gassy'... Mine are a lot smoother and they get all harvested at the end of year one, [before they get too "knobby", selected immediately and returned to the ground to spend the winter: think about growing garlic: You harvest them in the fall  and replant by November. That is what I try to do with sunchokes. I need to get myself a root cellar because so far, keeping them bare in an unheated shed has not worked well. Next year, I plan to keep them in buckets of damp sand down the basement, [like witloof chicory, for forcing into chicons].
And yes, the really knobby ones go to the chickens or for "deer bait".
 
May Lotito
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We had a cold Jan down to single digits for several times. Today it warms up to 50s so I dug another few. This time I peeled the skin off and it did taste sweeter than before. I guess I harvested the majority too early. The ground holds lots of heat especially when it is covered with lots of leaves. So there is a lag for the tubers to react to cold temperatures.  My variety is likely french mammoth white, btw.

I don't have a good recipe for fermenting, actually I keep getting yeast contamination despite I I sterilize the jar and lid. Maybe those come from the tuber surface just as lacto bacteria. To get the LAB a head start, I only add vinegar and salt, but no sugar. I am still trying on that.

To keep the tubers, I put them in airtight plastic jar with wet napkin in the fridge. Oldest ones stored since late Oct last year still look the same. For large quantity, I dug a hole in the ground, put tubers in and topped with 3 inches of soil. Then I put thick layers of cardboard on top. I checked those last week, they were fine too.

THe more I learn about sunchoke, the more I like it.

 
May Lotito
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Testing the long term storage in fridge. This one has been sitting in the the jar for 100 days.
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This past year I started a new patch for the sunchokes.  Threw out winter wheat in Late November over the patch, and a little light mulch of grass clippings since I could not rake it in.   Both did well in spite of deer damage to both of them, but I think that light “deer pruning” was good for the sunchokes as it made them bunch up and grow much denser tops, and more able to send energy to the tubers.   When the wheat ripened in late spring, I just cut off or broke off the tops and left the long stems, which fell over and further mulched the sunchokes, now 12 inches or so high.    I also save those dried sunchoke stems for kindling and firestarter.  
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Faye Streiff wrote:This past year I started a new patch for the sunchokes.  Threw out winter wheat in Late November over the patch, and a little light mulch of grass clippings since I could not rake it in.   Both did well in spite of deer damage to both of them, but I think that light “deer pruning” was good for the sunchokes as it made them bunch up and grow much denser tops, and more able to send energy to the tubers.   When the wheat ripened in late spring, I just cut off or broke off the tops and left the long stems, which fell over and further mulched the sunchokes, now 12 inches or so high.    I also save those dried sunchoke stems for kindling and firestarter.  



They look good  and not too contorted.  I planted mine outside of the garden the first year and the deer that year did more than a little pruning: they kept eating the tops until the chokes died [I was making a hedge on the northwest side of the orchard]. Well, no sunchoke hedge!
It is good to know what kind of deer pressure you are going to have there. Now, I grow mine only in high raised beds. The Star white, which looks a lot like yours is "bunching", meaning that it does not ramble too much. This is a great feature to cultivate in sunchokes as they didn't go much further than potatoes would. I had a few that tried to get under but they were stopped by the bed's edge. The folks at Oikos told me yeah this is what happens when the sunchoke root feels an obstacle: It stops growing and the nutrients back up, and swell a tuber.
When I lift them next fall, I'll pull up the bed first because that is pretty much as far as the plants roamed and I had quite a few nice ones that lodged just under the board this past year. [I recycled part of the deck: those were the 2"X 12"X ? support beams that were under the deck planks. Sturdy stuff!] I use a crow bar to lift the beds once in a while, but it is HEAVY!
Because the tops and the leaves are usually what takes the nutrients back to the plants, I'm not sure the deer helped to give you better tubers than you would have gotten sans deer, but I might just try and trim a few hills to see. It is intriguing.
Certainly, if they decapitated the tops, you probably didn't get flowers/ seeds [?], which might also explain why you had a nicer crop.
 
Faye Streiff
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The deer only topped the sunchokes while they were small, as I think they were mostly after the ripening wheat.  Sunchokes grow back bigger/better than ever and did produce blossoms.  I have them in several patches, and these were just as productive as the others.  
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Faye Streiff wrote:The deer only topped the sunchokes while they were small, as I think they were mostly after the ripening wheat.  Sunchokes grow back bigger/better than ever and did produce blossoms.  I have them in several patches, and these were just as productive as the others.  



Hmmm... Good to know. Maybe I will head off a few by hand when they are small. Wouldn't it be something if trimming my sunchokes could make them produce bigger or more chokes? You know, trees need pruning to make bigger [but fewer] fruit.
I wonder if something like this is in play here, although you are saying 'just as' productive as the others. [not 'more'].
If nothing else, perhaps being trimmed early in life allowed them time to recover?
 
May Lotito
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Faye Streiff wrote:This past year I started a new patch for the sunchokes.  Threw out winter wheat in Late November over the patch, and a little light mulch of grass clippings since I could not rake it in.   Both did well in spite of deer damage to both of them, but I think that light “deer pruning” was good for the sunchokes as it made them bunch up and grow much denser tops, and more able to send energy to the tubers.   When the wheat ripened in late spring, I just cut off or broke off the tops and left the long stems, which fell over and further mulched the sunchokes, now 12 inches or so high.    I also save those dried sunchoke stems for kindling and firestarter.  



Hi, Faye, the combo of sunchoke and winter wheat worked out great. Thanks for sharing.

I am tinkering on using sunchoke in a polyculture of chicken feed. There will be sunchoke, broomcorn, mung bean, daikon radish and winter rye. The reasons for choosing these species are multi folds:

They consist of warm and cool season broadleaf and grasses, plus nitrogen fixer to keep ground covered and have living roots in soil year round. Two major principles for building soil in the book " a soil owner's manual".

Besides, deep roots from broomcorn will draw water from deep ground and the tall stalks help supporting the sunchokes growing in poor and compact soil. They tend to need irrigation and topped over in high wind later in the season.

The leaves, seeds and tubers are favored by my chickens. Above ground growth provides lots of biomass for mulching.

Kind of a 5 sister version for chicken! Let's see how it turns out.
 
Blaine Clark
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May Lotito wrote:

Hi, Faye, the combo of sunchoke and winter wheat worked out great. Thanks for sharing.

I am tinkering on using sunchoke in a polyculture of chicken feed. There will be sunchoke, broomcorn, mung bean, daikon radish and winter rye. The reasons for choosing these species are multi folds:

They consist of warm and cool season broadleaf and grasses, plus nitrogen fixer to keep ground covered and have living roots in soil year round. Two major principles for building soil in the book " a soil owner's manual".

Besides, deep roots from broomcorn will draw water from deep ground and the tall stalks help supporting the sunchokes growing in poor and compact soil. They tend to need irrigation and topped over in high wind later in the season.

The leaves, seeds and tubers are favored by my chickens. Above ground growth provides lots of biomass for mulching.

Kind of a 5 sister version for chicken! Let's see how it turns out.



Keep us updated on this mixture. 'Chokes are a bit allelopathic, good at keeping some of their competition at bay. Mine don't hold back strawberries, have some effect on Lemon Balm, no effect on garlic, wipes out horseradish, have some effect on Day Lilies, cuts most grasses right down and stunts Lambsquarters etc. The effects aren't consistent at all, so I'm VERY interested in what succeeds, what does so-so and what doesn't make it.
 
May Lotito
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Blaine Clark wrote:

Keep us updated on this mixture. 'Chokes are a bit allelopathic, good at keeping some of their competition at bay. Mine don't hold back strawberries, have some effect on Lemon Balm, no effect on garlic, wipes out horseradish, have some effect on Day Lilies, cuts most grasses right down and stunts Lambsquarters etc. The effects aren't consistent at all, so I'm VERY interested in what succeeds, what does so-so and what doesn't make it.



That's quite a list, I'd like to see others sharing results of sunchoke compatibility.

My pear sapling and sunflowers grew alright among sunchokes. Not so much for zucchini maybe due to sunlight blocked by the tall stalks and thick leaves.

For the combo, I will space the sunchoke and broomcorn by 2ft, while shorter plants go along the south border. If necessary, I can thin the sunchoke shoots aggresively to let light in. Last year I stripped several down to bare stalks as bean trellis. They grew back later and still produced.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Because sunchokes can be quite aggressive and conquer a lot of territory in one season, it will be interesting to figure out what *else* they can grow with, to save space. I realize there is a law of diminishing returns as I pack more and more in the same space, but I'll try.
Last fall, in November, I planted my garlic in 2 beds and also some Star white sunchokes [that do not roam to terribly much].
Someone mentioned that sunchokes have "no effect on Garlic", so that is good. Because both of them are root crops, I was concerned that they might not grow well together, or crowd each other.
The sunchokes can get trimmed so there are not 10 stalks emerging form one tuber. I plan to keep selecting the strongest shoot as my trellis for pole beans: Garlic requires mulch so I mulched with autumn leaves. I added the sunchokes later since the beds are on the North side of the garden, so they will shelter the rest of the garden somewhat from rough winds and protect everything to the south of these beds. At least, that is the plan.
When they all start coming up in the spring, I plan to select the best shoots of sunchokes [one stalk to a tuber, 2 max] and plant a couple of [grain] pole beans by each stalk. The whole patch could be harvested around the same time, in the Fall for minimum disruption.
It if all works according to plan, I should have 3 crops essentially in the same beds. The beans might enhance the other 2 by nitrogen nodules The garlic will have a little shade. Sunchokes are so vigorous that they should do all right in there.
I can see that as the sunchokes grow I would have to remove the lower leaves perhaps to facilitate the climbing beans but I may not have to. The chokes tubers grow deeper than the garlic while beans have shallow roots, so they should not get in each other's way: Chokes on bottom floor, garlic above the chokes and pole beans above the garlic. 3 floors of growing zones. That should take advantage of the whole thickness of the bed.
Wish me luck!
 
May Lotito
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If you don't need that many sunchokes or have other plans for the land, spring is the time to get rid of the excess. When the plants are about 1-1.5 ft tall, they have partially use up the stored nutrients in tubers and new roots are still weak. If there are more than one stalks growing from a single tuber, grab and pull them all out at once. That will leave no tuber or roots in the soil to grow back. Check back in a few weeks for any leftover.

For the biomass, I like to turn them quickly into fertilizer by submerging under water. The leaves are so tender they basically melt in a few days. Survival gardener website has a recent blog on this.
https://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/make-free-liquid-fertilizer-almost-anything/

 
May Lotito
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I thinned out some weaker plants and made the fertilizer out of them and took pictures this time.

I simply submerged whole leafy stems in a kid's sand box filled with tap water. After 3 days ( temp 50s to 70s) most leaves have disintegrated and turned into an olive green suspension. Part of the stems also rhetted and showed bundles of fibers.  I only stirred a couple times briefly. There was no air bubbling or foul smell, so few anaerobic decomposition has happened.

I used the solution as is right away, since there is no need to let it further break down or let the stagnant water breed mosquitoes. It's still early to tell how effective this sunchoke soup works as fertilizer but the potted tomatoes showed no ill effect so far.

I reserve a patch of sunchoke for biomass production like this. It's an useful plant even if you don't like eating the tubers.
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Posts: 17
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I planted my first tubers 3 years ago, so I'd say I'm still in the experimentation phase, but have some insight that some may find useful. I planted the first group of tubers in a section of my garden beds that I also planted hybrid poplars at 2 foot intervals to grow for firewood (currently in the process of replacing these with black locust seedlings). I have had no issues with them spreading, but this is likely because I harvest the majority of them each fall to transplant to other areas and the deer give them a beating all summer. However, they respond beautifully, by becoming bushy, almost like a coppiced tree after the deer clear their foliage and soft parts of the stems. In essence they have functioned as a trap crop for me, keeping the deer off of the young trees (that are now 15-20' tall in their fourth year!).

I also have bulb flowers growing in the spaces between the trees. This works very well, as the flowers come up and finish flowering before the sunroots wake up for the season. In mid summer, save for deer trimming, they provide a dense shade that helps keep weeds and soil temperature down, reducing work and watering needs for the young trees.

Overall, as with any plant or animal, sunroots are great when used in the right context. This year I dedicated a 30" x 100' bed to growing them, as I intend to integrate them into a future hedge to keep the deer out of my main garden area, and I planted comfrey root cuttings along the outside edges of the bed with 3 rows of sunroots at about 3' between each tuber. Next year, once that is all established, I will also seed pole beans with them.

For the stalks in the fall, I cut them and put them through the wood chipper, they become a very renewable source of mulch for my young trees and shrubs. This is the first year doing that, so I'm not sure how quickly they will break down, but I see no down side. I may also mix these chipped stalks with regular woodchip mulch to try and speed up the decomposition cycle of those (adding a green nitrogen source to the brown woodchips). Maybe the allelopathic properties also extend to the stalks, and will help make woodchip mulch even more effective at keeping weeds down, we'll see.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jonathan Hodges wrote:I planted my first tubers 3 years ago, so I'd say I'm still in the experimentation phase, but have some insight that some may find useful. I planted the first group of tubers in a section of my garden beds that I also planted hybrid poplars at 2 foot intervals to grow for firewood (currently in the process of replacing these with black locust seedlings). I have had no issues with them spreading, but this is likely because I harvest the majority of them each fall to transplant to other areas and the deer give them a beating all summer. However, they respond beautifully, by becoming bushy, almost like a coppiced tree after the deer clear their foliage and soft parts of the stems. In essence they have functioned as a trap crop for me, keeping the deer off of the young trees (that are now 15-20' tall in their fourth year!).

I also have bulb flowers growing in the spaces between the trees. This works very well, as the flowers come up and finish flowering before the sunroots wake up for the season. In mid summer, save for deer trimming, they provide a dense shade that helps keep weeds and soil temperature down, reducing work and watering needs for the young trees.

Overall, as with any plant or animal, sunroots are great when used in the right context. This year I dedicated a 30" x 100' bed to growing them, as I intend to integrate them into a future hedge to keep the deer out of my main garden area, and I planted comfrey root cuttings along the outside edges of the bed with 3 rows of sunroots at about 3' between each tuber. Next year, once that is all established, I will also seed pole beans with them.

For the stalks in the fall, I cut them and put them through the wood chipper, they become a very renewable source of mulch for my young trees and shrubs. This is the first year doing that, so I'm not sure how quickly they will break down, but I see no down side. I may also mix these chipped stalks with regular woodchip mulch to try and speed up the decomposition cycle of those (adding a green nitrogen source to the brown woodchips). Maybe the allelopathic properties also extend to the stalks, and will help make woodchip mulch even more effective at keeping weeds down, we'll see.




I am in extremely sandy soil as well. I would only chop the stems and branches for mulch. For the tubers, you must make absolutely sure they are dead:  Even a tiny fragment of a root will spring up and give you a full sized plant. They spread far and wide from a chunk no bigger than my thumbnail, Deer will graze them down in the spring of the year, which will help contain them. Pigs, chickens will love to eat them if you chunk them first. This might be a better use of them if you do not want to eat them. They are delicious raw but cause farting and distress for some, although when they are cooked, they don't cause me any trouble.
Good luck I'm [sunchoke] rooting for you.
 
Faye Streiff
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Another advantage to sunchokes is that the tops are excellent fodder for grazing animals.  Alfalfa is just too expensive here and I sometimes feed the Sunchoke tops to the goats as a good source of protein.  
 
May Lotito
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Faye Streiff wrote:Another advantage to sunchokes is that the tops are excellent fodder for grazing animals.  Alfalfa is just too expensive here and I sometimes feed the Sunchoke tops to the goats as a good source of protein.  


Indeed, there is research showing the nutritional value of the tops is comparable to that of alfalfa. Also the tuber contains a high level of essential amino acids.
A recent review on Jerusalem artichokes:
A weed with economic value Agronomy 2021,11,914

Animal nutrition 2020 volumn6 issue 4 p429-437
Nutritional value, bioactivity, and application potential of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.) as a neotype feed resource
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Yesterday I dug a bushel of sunroots. Used some of them to start a batch of sauerkraut. I really, really liked digging the plant that had super-short stolons. All the tubers were right next to the stalk, so it made digging really easy. I expanded my patch by planting more of that variety...



My tubers rarely seem to be near the plant, and this is true for all the varieties I grow. I think the tubers must be deep underground because I can dig a whole area over and find few or no tubers, even though it was teeming with medium to huge sun root plants. I know the tubers are there somewhere because the plants will spring up again thickly the next season. It’s incredibly frustrating and I haven’t heard anyone else mention this problem.
 
Jonathan Hodges
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Sandra Graham wrote:My tubers rarely seem to be near the plant, and this is true for all the varieties I grow. I think the tubers must be deep underground because I can dig a whole area over and find few or no tubers, even though it was teeming with medium to huge sun root plants. I know the tubers are there somewhere because the plants will spring up again thickly the next season. It’s incredibly frustrating and I haven’t heard anyone else mention this problem.



Have you tried gently loosening the soil around the plant then pulling the entire stalk out of the ground? Even if some of the tubers break away from the root stolons, you'll be able to see where they were leading as you pull, helping you to find the tubers.
 
Sandra Graham
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Jonathan Hodges wrote:

Sandra Graham wrote:My tubers rarely seem to be near the plant, and this is true for all the varieties I grow. I think the tubers must be deep underground because I can dig a whole area over and find few or no tubers, even though it was teeming with medium to huge sun root plants. I know the tubers are there somewhere because the plants will spring up again thickly the next season. It’s incredibly frustrating and I haven’t heard anyone else mention this problem.



Have you tried gently loosening the soil around the plant then pulling the entire stalk out of the ground? Even if some of the tubers break away from the root stolons, you'll be able to see where they were leading as you pull, helping you to find the tubers.



I have tried pulling the stalks gently out of the ground, though I haven’t loosened the soil first. Rarely is there a tuber attached. The broken roots head off in all directions. I usually dig throughout the whole bed, down to about 4 or 5 inches, without finding very much. It’s hard to dig much deeper than that as the soil becomes dense clay. The first year I had planted them, I found plenty of large tubers near the surface. Since then though, I have lots of fat healthy stalks, but the tubers are eluding me.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Sandra Graham wrote:

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Yesterday I dug a bushel of sunroots. Used some of them to start a batch of sauerkraut. I really, really liked digging the plant that had super-short stolons. All the tubers were right next to the stalk, so it made digging really easy. I expanded my patch by planting more of that variety...



My tubers rarely seem to be near the plant, and this is true for all the varieties I grow. I think the tubers must be deep underground because I can dig a whole area over and find few or no tubers, even though it was teeming with medium to huge sun root plants. I know the tubers are there somewhere because the plants will spring up again thickly the next season. It’s incredibly frustrating and I haven’t heard anyone else mention this problem.




What kind of soil do you have and what zone are you growing in. Also, what are your tuber cultivars? All these factors may influence your results.
I'm in very sandy 4b. I bought mine from Oikos. Although I can't see the type I bought previously, they now have more cultivars that are "non-runners" or "clustering". They did a lot of selective breeding to arrive at tubers that really deserve to be cropped. Some have less nodes for easier cleaning, others make large tubers...
Also, because they can burrow almost one foot underground, I plant mine in deep raised beds [11" boards]. This alone is what makes it easier for a 73 year old to dig them all out in a couple of days.
When it is time to harvest [and you can spread the harvest over a few weeks but they seem sweeter after a killing frost], I cut all the stems leaving enough to have a good grabbing handle, then I lift the entire bed boards. I have noticed that when the root encounters an obstacle, it stops and the nutrition behind it causes the root to swell and make another tuber. Also, this way, I don't have to chase for them beyond the bed board. Now, I'm not sure about it, this is just a personal observation, but the hills I pick earlier in the season are not as deep as they would be later. Do they sense the cold coming and decide to burrow to escape it? I don't know but it seems to hold true for the most part.
This is the Oikos page:
https://oikostreecrops.com/products/perennial-vegetable-plants/sunchoke-Jerusalem-artichoke-tubers/
Also, even in my zone 4b, they do seem to keep better *in* the ground than out. Any that I miss in the fall will sprout and be delicious in the spring. I suspect that like potatoes and carrots, they keep better in a cold and damp environment. If they don't have sand/ soil attached, they dry, freeze and go mushy on you. [Ahhh! how I wish I had an old fashioned root cellar!]
 
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