One of the easiest perennial tuber crops to grow, sunchokes are widely adaptable to a variety of climates and soils. Selections are based on flavor, texture, ease of cleaning and harvest as well as yield.
Here are a few tips to help grow this species and keep your planting productive year after year.
Spacing Requirements: Sunchokes should be spaced 2 ft. apart with rows 4-6 ft. apart. Sunlight for each plant is ideal for the highest yields and largest tubers. If you are maintaining an area devoted just to sunchokes keep in mind that as time goes on the canes of individual plants will begin to get leggy. These thin canes are a sign that the planting is too dense. You should remove a portion of the stems which will aid in tuber quality.
Depth of Planting: The greater depth you plant them, the deeper the tubers are produced. It is best to cover the tubers with at least one inch of soil with a mulch of 1 inch or so.
Soil Requirements: Sunchokes appear productive in all types of soil and are able to grow from Texas to Maine in clay to sand. Even gravel appears to have enough nutrients to support sunchokes. Soil that is constantly moist may have problems growing sunchokes if the drainage is poor. The tubers will rot in wet soil.
Preventing or Enhancing Their Spread: Some selections ‘clumpers’ are less likely to grow beyond 1-2 ft. per year. These are basically a large ball of tubers growing close to the central stem. Other selections are more ‘runner’ and will produce on long stolons. In general, the long stolon types are close to the soil so a small 6-12 inch deep barrier will be enough to prevent their spread. Keep in mind, a small piece of sunchoke whether it is part of a stolon or tuber, will produce a full flush of tubers during a growing season.
Time of Planting: Sunchokes are best planted during the dormant season in spring or fall. Spring planting is best done from March through early May and fall planting is best done in October through November when the plant has lost its leaves.
Pests of Sunchokes: Sunchokes suffer from few insect pests, however some animals also love the sunchoke. Whitetail deer will consume the tops of the sunchoke. We use a deer repellent called Deer Off. This works most of the time if applied bi-weekly throughout the growing season. Heavy deer pressure will make this less effective. The other pest is the Prairie vole and other voles. These will consume vast quantities of tubers during the winter. They will also hoard them into pockets. There is no real solution to this problem other than keeping areas around the planting pristine and free of thick grass and brush. Keeping grass mowed right to the ground prior to winter is a good idea.
Unlike potatoes, sunchoke lose their moisture quickly and cannot be stored open. With that in mind, harvest what you need when you plan to cook them. November will generally make the tubers have a mellower flavor if you want to harvest the plants later in the season. Early spring harvested tubers are said to be better flavored and sweet too. This is due to the small changes that take place in the tuber during dormancy.
Our Packets: These are made up of full tubers or partial tubers that have been cut.
Whenever possible we include full tubers, however due to the nature and size of some selections we do some of them in half. These half pieces will grow into full plants with full yields and will not influence their growth in any negative way. We count these pieces as one tuber. Full tubers can be cut into halves and quarters for further splitting just like potatoes leaving an eye or two which will then sprout and grow. (See picture above.)