Planting Healthy Hibiscus, Delicious Yacon and Nutritious Sunchokes

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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Last week as I was preparing to plant our Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, Mother
Earth News editor Cheryl Long shared
this comment from a reader, “there was
an article about hibiscus flower tea lowering blood pressure.
I followed the recipe and after 1 month my BP is normal! Even with meds I
remained at 155/98 and have had trips to the ER over it, but now it is 117/71,
normal!” At the Southern Exposure Seed
Exchange farm, we love growing our day length neutral strain of Thai Red Roselle for a refreshing summer drink, a
delicious cranberry like jam or sauce and tangy leaves to add to summer salads
as well as its blood pressure lowering properties. You can read my article to
learn how to grow your own Roselle.


 

Our new certified sweet potato grower Clif Slade stopped by the
farm today to drop off All Purple and Porto Rico sweet potato slips for our
first shipment. Clif used to be an
extension agent in Surrey County for many years, and he was full of useful tips
on growing these fabulous plants. I’ve
always known it was important to wait for the soil to be warm enough before
planting, but how warm? And how do you
measure?

Cliff
says his daddy always planted sweet potatoes on Memorial Day weekend, but a
more scientific way is to test first with a soil thermometer. When the soil has been 65 degreesfor a week, it’s
warm enough (testing every day at 10 am.) 

For
every week earlier that you plant your sweet potatoes, you can lose 100 bushels
per week. Sweet potatoes can yield 500
bushels per acre, but that’s reduced to 400 bushels if you plant a week too
early, 300 bushels a week earlier, and so on (other things being equal, like
fertility, inputs, and moisture.)

Cliff
also reminded us that mature sweet potatoes don’t do well with cold soil. If frost hits, get them out of the ground
right away! Harvest that same day and
cure them in a warm place (80-90 degrees if you can get it that warm) with high
humidity (80 or 90%).


 

Another
root we’re planting right now is sunchokes. Also called Jerusalem artichokes, they’re tubers of a
sunflower-relative. Raw, they’re crisp
like water chestnuts. They have become
popular in recent times because the sugars in these sweet roots are inulin, a
form that doesn’t spike your glycemic index. I think these perennials are the easiest-to-grow edible root in our gardens. They have really low fertility requirements,
and they’re happy and disease-free through heat and drought.

Sunchokes are ready for harvest around
November. In milder areas, you can store
them in the ground and harvest as needed all winter. In the north people usually harvest before
hard freezes and store in a root cellar. Just be sure that by May you’ve got your sunchokes re-planted at your
desired spacing. This will ensure the
plants make nice big roots for next year’s harvest.


 

We’re
trying to spread the news about yacon, a sweet, edible high-yielding
tuber from the Andes, that’s a relative of sunchokes, but much sweeter. We peel them and eat them raw, out of hand
like a fruit, but they’re also excellent sliced in salads. Served this way, we’ve had people mistake them for pears. Both yacon and Jerusalem Artichokes contain
inulin which helps keep blood sugar stable, so they’re great for people who
have diabetes.

We got
our seedstock from food writer and Mother Earth News contributing editor William Woys Weaver as well as seed saver Michael Youngs, who
grows these subtropical plants in upstate New York – they’re not photo-period
sensitive. They store exceptionally well: Michael takes them to work as a
snack all winter. Simply harvest yacon in
the fall before frost, and we find they’ll keep until spring. Yacon makes two kinds of tubers – an inner
ring of small roots that should be saved for planting, and deeper down in the
soil the larger edible roots (each one 6 to 12 inches long!) We are hoping for
a large enough crop of both the Violet skinned, orange fleshed Marada from
William Woys Weaver and the crisp sweet White
yacon from Mike Youngs to offer in our 2013 catalog. Who says you can’t have
your yacon and eat it too?

Thanks
for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing
and cooking.


Ira Wallace lives and gardens at
Acorn Community Farm home of
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure
offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also
a co-organizer of the
Heritage
Harvest Festival at Monticello
. She serves on the
board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother
Earth News Fairs
and many other
events
throughout the Southeast. Her
first book,
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeastwas published in 2013.