Gardening: If you grow Jerusalem artichokes once, they'll make sure you grow them again!

Whole Jerusalem artichokes

Whole Jerusalem artichokes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among the leaf litter and broken twigs scattered across the allotment there are the usual old stagers still standing as if in competition to be picked for Christmas dinner.

Beetroot are the size of turnips and raised above ground while the parsnips' broad shoulders can be seen under their soggy, wilting foliage.

Kale and cabbages are still vibrant green while the hoary old carrots are deeply entrenched in what feels like clay soil.

What has also taken its rightful place alongside the reliable winter standards are Jerusalem artichokes.

I have grown them every year for almost 20 years now.

This is not a deliberate festive attempt to incorporate something related to Bethlehem but an unashamed attempt to encourage you to grow them at least once.

If you grow them once, they'll make sure you grow them again!

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As they are a tuber, you can simply plant them and they are one of those plants that will thrive anywhere.

Like potatoes, as one old gardener told me, ‘just throw them in the hedge and they’ll grow’.

You will always have a few ‘volunteers’ the next year as it's impossible to dig them all out at the end of the growing season.

Growing them in a large tub will stop them spreading, as they are extremely prone to this.

If you can, try and find the Fuseau variety as they are smooth skinned. Unfortunately, most other varieties can be knobbly and hard to peel, like ginger.

If you plant them between now and January, you'll be digging their treasure all throughout next November to March.

Each plant provides around 10 tubers the size of a golf ball, but one that looks like it’s been gently squeezed.

Jerusalem Artichokes will probably grow in dust, but the more love and affection they get, the more tubers they provide.

A fine example of how gardening mirrors life!

Planting them is easy, and most garden centres sell the tubers now.

Dig a hole at a spade’s depth before placing them any way up on a few handfuls of compost or leaf mould.

This really isn't essential, but they seem to do better with it.

You’ll notice them poking their heads above ground just over a month after planting.

From then on, they’ll grow quickly into a tall, thick-stemmed plant most people could mistake for sunflowers.

They love most types of soil apart from heavily water-logged plots and will grow equally well in sun or partial shade, it really doesn’t seem to matter and I've had similar results in differing conditions.

I know they are grown for their great-tasting tubers but I have also used them as a screen, given their height and reliability.

Once I grew them in a circle around a fire bowl which was like a secret garden with a light show at night.

They are a member of the tall, pretty sunflower family and will grow to around 10ft/3m and can develop pretty, yellow, star-shaped flowers if you let them.

I tend to cut the stems down in early autumn to around 2ft before the wind catches them and damages the tuber growth.

This also helps the plant decide to send more nutrients to the tuber, which we want.

I love almost everything about them, from their ease of growing to the way they taste and even don’t mind them popping up where they shouldn’t.

I tend to roast them with a squeeze of lemon juice and they are like a caramel-coated sweet turnip that melts inside.

One thing you might not thank me for, and certainly not at Midnight Mass, is their undeniable ability to promote flatulence without fail.

Despite this, I know I'll be at the allotment this week excitedly digging them up, giving them a scrub and making sure they'll be nestled alongside our Christmas dinner.