Amazing Sunchokes

photo by Rory Page

It is hard not to be awestruck by this plant, which is at once beautiful and generous in its supply of edible tubers.  In fact, I think Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) are one of the best homesteader crops, especially for those wishing to be self-sustaining.  They winter well in the soil (important here in Montana) and produce a lot of calories, so if you get hungry in the middle of winter, there’s plenty out there even if you haven’t done anything with them for five years.

On top of that, they make an excellent pig food – all year.  Sepp Holzer acutally pushes perennial rye and sunchokes (raw or cooked) as the core crop for chicken and pig feeds.  If chickens follow pigs in a paddock shift rotation, pigs will often pull up sunchokes (and other tubers) and leave scraps for the chickens.  And, in case that isn’t enough, Sunchokes also create awesome privacy screens, grow in many different soil conditions, and are low maintenance and perennial.

Cooking is key as they are high in inulin (indigestible to humans) and have low caloric value unless/until they are slow-cooked.  I recorded a podcast with Norris Thomlinson, an urban farmer in Portland, Oregon.  Norris speaks about “sunchoke farts” and the cooking process required to make these tubers digestible.  He also explains that it is possible to do a sunchoke polyculture by sort of a 3 sisters combo: sunchokes, ground nuts, and chinese artichoke.

Storage is a no-brainer – you just leave the sunchokes outside until you are ready to use them!

I shot a video that shows several different growers sharing their experiences with this crop.  Missoula’s own Helen Atthowe starts it off – enjoy!

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