Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunchoke
I love this plant. I must because it does require some room in the garden. The name Jerusalem artichoke mostly refers to the part of the plant most people are familiar with (the tubers). Depending on how much you want to protect young plants, you can start Jerusalem artichokes as early as January. Find tubers in the grocery store (not all grocery stores have them, but any that carry interesting produce will, especially if they carry local produce). Get a bunch of tubers and cut them all in half or so–so long as they all have about two eyes. Yes, they have eyes like potatoes do.
Plant them out right away (don’t lets the tubers dry out) about 6 inches deep in well composted and manured garden soil. Space them a foot or more apart because they WILL spread. Like any root crop, good drainage and well-loosened soil will make them grow better.
Keep well watered and feed fish emulsion, kelp meal and/or compost tea occasionally. Don’t let them dry out too much, they will start to become vulnerable to aphid problems. If they do get aphids, spray off vigorously with a hose by increasing the pressure. A bed should probably be totally devoted to this crop. They are quite aggressive. In some climates this plant can be an invasive pest. Be careful if you live in a rural area where sunflowers are native and there is more moisture. Even our own native sunflowers in Arizona have become weedy pests in some areas.
They taste best when the frost has killed back the tops in the beginning of winter. Dig them up gingerly with a pitchfork. Or leave them in the ground until you need them.
If you want to try other varieties than what is found in the grocery store, there are a few available online (sold as tubers of course). Stampede is an early, heavy producer. Red fuseau produces maroon colored tubers and is also early-producing. Pink Crispy is the best selection for eating raw. There are also other species of sunflower, like Helianthus nuttallii that have tubers that can be eaten and taste somewhat similar. Oikos Tree Crops has all of these and a few more.
Tubers store just fine in the ground in Tucson and will last longer this way–they can dry out in the refrigerator. They are also pickled. They are absolutely delicious just roasted in the oven. They can be eaten a number of ways and here is a brief description of some. One last note, if you really want to work up a crazy fart-storm, eat lots of Jerusalem artichokes. They can cause one a bit of flatulence.