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The sunchokes in your garden are for you and your animals.

Sunchokes, a hardy perennial more commonly called Jerusalem artichokes, are a member of the sunflower family. The tubers are starchless, but do contain a natural form of sugar at a level higher than sugar beets. Regrowth is from eyes on the tuber, in the same manner as potatoes, and the same equipment can be used for planning and harvesting.

While just about all livestock and poultry relish the tubers during the winter, the above ground growth also makes excellent forage, silage and hay. Sunchokes can produce up to 35 tons per acre of green feed which, in tests, has run slightly higher than alfalfa. In addition, the tubers can produce up to 15 tons per acre.

Sunchokes apparently attract no damaging insets and when planted 18-24 inches apart m rows about three and one-half feet wide, its rapid and spreading-type growth prevents most weeds.

An intriguing aspect of sunchokes is their variety of uses - forage, silage, hay and tubers (which can be hogged down). For example, the first cutting could occur at a height of four feet (to give the tubers a chance to grow) for hay or silage and then two to three subsequent cuttings at about two feet of height as hay. Following the last cutting, the plants should be allowed to get some regrowth and then could be hogged down.

According to the Canadian Agriculture Research Center, feeding sunchokes to hogs reduces their manure odor and also helps them to absorb more nutrients from their other feed.

Unless heavily hogged down, enough tubers or eyes should be left for a volunteer crop next year. When being hogged down grain or other protein supplements should be provided. The green tops contain about as much protein as soybeans but the tubers do not have a significant protein level.

While the tubers can be stored like seed potatoes, the easiest way would be to let them over winter m the ground. With their high sugar content, they will not freeze to the point of damage. A 1:20 ratio (one acre of tubers will seed about 20 acres of new plants) can be used.

If used for silage, the top growth should be cut to the length of fine chopped haylage. ff used for hay, adding one pound of a bacterial inoculate per ton will help prevent it from heating if baled at 18-28 percent moisture level,

A gourmet weed

This article demonstrates, once again, how even "poor" homesteaders can live a little higher on the hog than most other people.

On our place, Jerusalem artichokes have almost become a weed: a very welcome one, to be sure, and an easily controlled one, but they have all the growth and hardiness attributes of a real pest. We enjoy their crispiness, especially after the ground first thaws in spring. And we have had so many, with such little effort, that we've fed them to the pigs.

Imagine our surprise then, upon seeing "sunchokes" in a grocery store, priced like some exotic vegetable!
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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