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A knobbly tuber whose blooms look like a sunflower: Meet the sunchoke

A tan and brown, knobby vegetable on a wooden table. Some slices of it show a creamy white inside and it looks like a raw potato.
margouillatphotos/Getty Images/iStockphoto
A tuber that goes by Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke can grow prolifically in Vermont gardens. This late season root veggie can be mashed, boiled and baked like a potato or used in soups.

Looking forward to a late-season harvest of tubers you can mash, boil, fry and bake and it isn't potatoes? Then you must have planted the sunchoke or "Jerusalem artichoke!"

The native sunchoke plant has its origins in neither Jerusalem, nor is it part of the artichoke family.

Its moniker is derived from explorerSamuel de Champlain. In the 1600s, he noted the plants growing in this area and after eating the tuber, thought it tasted a bit like an artichoke.

When he returned to Europe with some, he used that vegetable to describe its flavor to other Europeans and the name stuck. As for the "Jerusalem" part of this root plant's handle, that probably comes a mispronunciation or the Italian term for "sunflower": girasol.

And sunchokes are indeed in the sunflower family. The plants grow very tall - up to 12 feet, sometimes - and the bloom looks like a smaller, more delicate sunflower.

Sunchokes in a listener's garden caught our eye on a recent garden tour. Watch the All Things Gardening live episode here!

The sunchoke is a perennial root vegetable with tubers that look a bit like a small, bumpy potato.

And you can treat them and eat them like potatoes, too. Sunchokes can also be eaten raw, and have the texture similar to a water chestnut or jícama.

Different sunchoke varieties, like Fuseau, grow with a reddish peel that is easier to clean and smoother or with a brown peel, like Stampede.

Harvest them in late fall by digging them up after the sunchoke plant has dried and died back.

Where this tuber differs from potatoes is in the storing: You won't be able to store sunchokes for long.

So dig them out of the soil as you need them, then clean and eat them and head out to your garden to dig up more the next day.

And sunchoke plants will spread easily in your garden, so think of that when you decide where to plant them. As long as you leave even a tiny piece of a tuber in the soil, it will regrow.

A good place to grow sunchokes is against a wall of a barn or garage. That way the plants spread but you can still mow around them to keep them contained.

Q: We have three, five-plus-year-old bush cherries which make fruit and then that browns and drops off. They did well three years ago, but there's been no fruit since. They're well-mulched and well watered, so what's up? - Ross, in Weathersfield

A: What Ross is describing with his bush cherries sounds like some kind of fungal disease.

Bush cherries can be susceptible to brown rot fungus that affects the fruit.

A couple of things to try include pruning or preventative fungicides.

As for pruning, in late winter or next spring, prune your bush cherries to open them up a little bit. This will allow better airflow around the center of the bushes, where those cherries are forming. Hopefully, creating that airflow might make it less likely to get rot on the fruit.

Another idea is to start using a preventive organic fungicide, like Serenade. Spray it on your trees early in the season, just as the fruits are starting to form and before you see any of this damage.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Williams Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublic. We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.