A Lesson Learned From A Jerusalem Artichoke

Do your homework!

How often have we heard that expression? Countless times, throughout our entire lives. As children, our parents were constantly on our cases to do the work assigned to us by our teachers to reinforce what we were learning in school. As adults, we’re told by others in the know that before we purchase something, invest in something, start a relationship, etc., to do our homework – i.e. research it carefully before we trade our money, time, or our even our very lives for it.

And research we do – well, some of us anyway. We read the prospectus carefully before we invest. We study the Kelly Blue Book or the NADA guide before we buy that new car. We do a background check on that new man or woman we’ve started dating. We research the various types and varieties of fruits and vegetables before we plant them in our gardens.

Wait – what did you say? You don’t research the various types and varieties of fruits and vegetables before you plant them in your garden?

Well, well, well. Let’s take a stroll out behind the barn. We’re going to have to have a little chat.

You know what happens when you don’t do your homework, don’t you? No, we’re not talking about light punishments like being grounded or sent to the principal’s office. No, I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. You run the risk of being banished to……..


(cue the bloodcurdling screams)

In garden purgatory there are only two kinds of gardens. The first kind is the barren garden – the abject horticultural failure where nothing grows! All that hard work and money, and you have nothing to show for it. The dry parched earth just stares at you and cruelly laughs. All because you didn’t take the time to determine if the soil was adequately fertile, how often you needed to water, if the crops you were planting were the right ones for your zone, etc.

The second kind is the garden of the undead. That garden is nothing but a tangled mess of vegetables you thought you wanted, but now realize you don’t – except that it’s too late. The prolific “guests”choke out all the vegetables you really do want, and they cannot be dug out or killed. You are stuck with them forever (cue the maniacal laughter)!

And lest you harbor the unworthy thought that I’m pulling your leg, I will tell you that I, myself, once found myself in garden purgatory (the garden of the undead type) all because of a certain vegetable known as the Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichoke 1 Jerusalem artichoke 2

The Jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke, is a vegetable crop in the sunflower family. It produces knobby tubers that, when consumed raw, have a flavor similar to water chestnuts. They are similar to potatoes, except that potatoes store their energy as starch, while Jerusalem artichokes store their energy in the form of inulin, which breaks down into fructose, thereby giving the tuber a sweeter taste than potato tubers.

Jerusalem artichokes are also highly productive – so much so that if not carefully managed, can become invasive.

I learned all of this the hard way, when, back in 1986, I planted nine Jerusalem artichoke tuber pieces in my parents’ garden. All I knew about them at the time was that I had tasted them once and liked them, so I thought they’d be fun to plant. Some fun they turned out to be! They grew, all right – as tall as sunflowers and with stems as thick as my wrists. Yanking them out of the ground required a Herculean effort. And oh, my Lord, did they produce! I must have had about three shopping bags filled with tubers. Thank heaven I dug them all out and was all done with them by November.

Or so I thought. Little did I realize that they were planning an encore. Come the following spring, I discovered that I had left a few tubers in the ground. How did I discover this? Because they sprouted into new plants! All in all, I’d say it took me about two years before I finally rid the garden of them for good and forever.

But had I done my homework and learned then what I know now. I probably would not have planted them and thereby avoided all of the fun I had trying to get rid of them.

So learn from my mistake. Don’t just stick something in the ground without taking the time to learn a little something about it first. Sure you’ll avoid consequences like the invasion of the Jerusalem artichokes, but you’ll also find great plants that fit well in your garden, and provide you with the amount, type, and flavor of fruits and vegetables that are right for you and your family.

And that, my friends, is what’s known as garden heaven.

Garden Heaven

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