The artichoke chore

The Jerusalem artichoke is almost the perfect crop: easy to grow, requiring little or no maintenance, nor even irrigation under typical conditions; perennial; rarely affected by pests and diseases; producing a fairly good yield for the space; and can be dug as needed from late autumn through to mid spring. Its only drawback is that the flavour, and the effects on digestion, are not to everyone’s taste; if it were not for that, this would be the king of winter vegetables.

We have a reasonable sized patch of Jerusalem artichoke Violet de Rennes, which produces fairly large tubers of fine quality. These are harvested as and when we need them but they produce far more than we can easily use so we usually end up with a few bags full at the end of the season to find homes for.

Once per year the artichoke bed demands some attention and it is a bit of a chore as the bed requires deep cultivation. Before the tubers begin growing again in mid to late spring, the bed is dug over and as many tubers as possible removed. It would be challenging indeed to try to eradicate them once well established as new plants will grow from rather small pieces of tuber. Suitable tubers are reserved for replanting; for these I choose solid tubers of moderate size, with few or no knobbles. The bed would almost certainly provide abundant new plants without replanting, but it is good to replant some good sized tubers to ensure a good harvest of decent sized tubers at the end of the year.

Digging over the bed to unearth any remaining tubers
Digging over the bed to unearth any remaining tubers

Once dug over, the bed is raked flat, and the tubers planted 12 to 18 inches apart with the tops about six inches below the surface. Once replanted, we mulch the bed with organic matter of some sort; this year we spread a good layer of strawy horse manure. Nothing more should be needed until the end of the season when the dead or dying stems are cut down. On exposed sites, some support may be needed, as these are rather tall growing, but we have not found any to be necessary where we are.

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