Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's new at the Farm? Oh deer, Jerusalem Artichokes

The harvest season continues to wind down. This week finds us processing the last two squashes and digging the artichokes. Jerusalem artichoke that is -- commonly referred to here as JAs.

The finishing of the harvest happens as the weather turns decidedly colder and working outside some days now isn't overly pleasant. As I write this, the Farm Crew is digging artichokes and it's 42 degrees with a brisk northwest wind.

Jerusalem Artichoke: A favorite menu item for deer.
We've been raising Jerusalem Artichokes here since before I started. Most years we have adequate supply. This year is no exception.  We used to dig and ship them in the spring -- one of our first tasks in the field in the early spring. I remember one year when it was snowing and we were digging them in the mud – fun, fun. We also didn't replant them; we simply left them in one particular field and added some compost to them every spring.

We found out that this didn't always work as some years the deer beat us to the patch and we came up short. We did discover that while the deer can follow the stems down to the tubers, they can't smell newly planted ones. So we started fall planting them, and voila, we had good tubers again. We also plant them in different fields and maintain them like corn – rows 36 inches apart, and tubers a foot or so apart and cultivate them as such.  Growing them this way gives us excellent yields and makes it easy to cultivate.  Aggressive weed control in the early season really pays off with them. They can be harrowed before they come up or when they are very small and that'll kill the first flush of weeds.  JAs are very hardy and they won't be hurt by aggressive cultivating techniques.

We planted around 1,500 bed feet, which is 3,000 row feet, of JAs last fall. We plant them this time of year for a couple reasons: No. 1 -- deer, and No. 2 -- timing.

Timing first. Because we have more time available now than in March/April, anything we can do now is something we don't have to worry about next spring.

And the deer?  Deer love artichokes. We'll leave many artichokes in the field, where the deer will dig them up through the fall and into the winter to get at those tasty tubers. They'll eat all we leave; some years being hundreds if not thousands of pounds; most years anyways. At least they don't go to waste. Some years, for some unknown reason they don't touch them, but that's not something we can count on.

What we don't dig up for sales will be left in the ground. We'll use the same field two years in a row then we'll move them to another field. This way the first year you'll get a really good harvest and the second year they'll size down a bit but by the third year they'll become overcrowded and tuber size will be reduced.

In 2009 we planted them at one of our isolated fields but this year they're coming back to the farm. I expect the deer will eat all that we leave in the field so we'll want to replant here anyways. If the deer don't eat them all, we'll wait until they're a foot to a foot and a half tall, then plow them under. This way they have used up all their reserved energy and can't regrow; otherwise they can become a nuisance. We've had them in many different fields over the years and don't have any issues with them becoming weeds here.

Until next week, here's to cool temps!
Brian

1 comment:

woodcutter said...

Interesting, the variety we have is more purplish in color and and tapered a bit. They have a very nice nutty flavor.