“How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” — John Burroughs

Autumn is finally upon us but gardening is not over until after a killing frost. Get those houseplants in before it is too late. Garden cleanup is important not only to prevent disease but to make spring planting easier.

A vegetable I have never mentioned since most people never heard of it or have never tried is a terrific tuber native to North America. The botanical name is Helianthus tuberosus but it is also called Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke. They are prolific and can multiply rapidly but can be a productive and rewarding crop. The edible parts are the roots, which have a crunchy texture similar to a water chestnut. When cooked, they become a soft, nutty alternative to potatoes. American and European gardeners have been growing these for more than 300 years.

Plant Jerusalem artichokes in early spring to get the longest growing period possible. After harvest in fall, any tubers you miss will produce plants the following year. When planting, I would recommend a separate area about 5 feet by 5 feet located outside the vegetable garden so you can mow around it to keep these plant from spreading. As the botanical name indicates, it belongs to the Helianthus family and produces yellow daisy-like flowers on very tall stems making it an attractive plant.

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Harvesting can be done until the ground freezes. Tubers can be quite deep but if you don’t get them all in fall, you can dig them in spring. After harvesting, clean the tubers and store in refrigerator for a couple of months. You can cook the tubers peeled or unpeeled. They can be fried, boiled, baked, made into chips or made into soup.

Jerusalem artichokes get their sweetness from a sugar called inulin which the body metabolizes much more slowly than it does other sugars. This makes it a preferred food for diabetics or for anyone who wants to avoid simple sugars and starches. They are rich in iron, potassium, and B vitamins.

I think the reason people don’t grow them as much is because the older generation, like me, grew them a lot during the Depression years when if you didn’t have a farm, you could count on them to be there year after year. My generation apparently called them poor man’s food. Today they are relatively high priced in gourmet restaurants. They can be up to a ridiculous price of $25 per pound. This plant is related to the sunflower and all parts are edible.

The next Master Gardener classes coming up include Plant Diseases with Brian Huddleston on Oct. 12, and Arboriculture on Oct. 19. The cost is $15 to join the class. Call 608-355-3250 to sign up today.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at Phyllis.both@saukcountywi.gov or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.

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