Whenever I mentioned to anyone that I was planning on growing Jerusalem artichokes they scoffed, warning me against such reckless activity for one of two reasons: you’ll never get rid of them and they’ll make you fart. Well, I’ve enjoyed eating plenty of roasted ‘chokes in my time and their wind power is of no concern. And the ideal of a perennial veg is rather appealing.
So earlier this year I took the plunge and planted six grubby tubers at the same time as my spuds. Due to the more positive advice I received that they don’t care where they grow, I allowed them to share an unloved fence-side strip with couch grass and the neighbour’s rampant climber that has been trying to colonise my garden.
Above the ground, the plants grew fast and tall. They look nothing like artichokes or potatoes, more closely resembling sunflowers. Huge, thick stems towering above anything else in the garden, each topped with a hand-sized flower displaying a bright yellow, sunny disposition: like vegetable belisha beacons warning passers by that a ‘serial farter lives here’. And they achieved this growth with minimum attention from me – the occasional splash of water when the hose was out but no effort made to weed their patch.
Further advice suggested harvesting was best done from November onwards. Slash down the stalks then dig when required, any remaining tubers (or bits of tuber) would grow up again next spring. My plants received their first digging last week and that first harvest was a welcome surprise. The tubers clump together in large, nobbly masses which break down into potato sized vegetables. With their stringy bits of rooty stuff trailing from their warty complexion they look something like a Doctor Who enemy (I don’t watch the show so am not sure what it is, but I don’t think I’ve made that up).
You can see why they’re hard to get rid of: the harvest is huge and those nobbly bits get everywhere, many of them being small and easy to break off – getting every last one out of the earth would be a challenge almost as great as ridding the plot of couch grass. And as they grow so easily, in ground that would be sub-standard for most veg, it looks like they’re here to stay. Which, providing the farting doesn’t get progressively worse, is fine by me.