Sunday, 21 June 2015

Skirret harvest 2015

The other weekend I dug up my dormant skirret plants to harvest some delicious roots as well as divide the crowns.  Being Winter in Australia means that the skirret has died down and the roots are conveniently stored in the soil.  I have had a lot of people email me questions about skirret  (my email details are on my for sale page)so thought I should write another post about the harvest.
Dormant skirret plant
I wrote an earlier post on growing skirret from seed.  Skirret is a terrific perennial vegetable that desperately deserves someone to put in some dedicated breeding effort and bring it back into popularity.

Over the year the plants grew from tiny seeds into flowering size small plants, each year they will grow larger and stronger.  Unlike many perennial vegetables, skirret grew from seed, flowered and set more viable seed in a year, as well as that each plant produced a few offsets which can be divided and replanted.
Skirret plants ready for harvest
The Skirret Harvest
To harvest I waited until they had finished flowering, then collected the seeds and store them safely, then I cut off the flower stalk and waited for the plants to die down.  The skirret eventually died down leaving nothing but some dead leaves to show where they had been, I then was busy and didn't do anything for a few weeks.  We eventually had some frosts, but I was still busy so did nothing with the skirret plants.  I am told like many winter vegetables that frost makes skirret sweeter and richer in taste, I have never eaten non-frosted skirret so can not comment on this.  Then when I had time I dug up the plants, removed the larger roots, divided the offsets, and replanted everything.

Upon digging the skirret plants I got to see how they had grown, they looked a lot like asparagus crowns.  Each plant grew a small handful of edible roots, the roots were only about 15cm long as this year were as thin as a pencil.  Being first year plants that is not too bad, older plants should grow longer and slightly thicker roots.  The plants were over crowded into a pot which was too small for one plant to grow well, which also would have lowered the yield.  I allowed the plants to flower and set seed, all of this takes a lot of energy and reduces the crop significantly.
Skirret plants in a pot starting to flower
Skirret Flowers attract beneficial insects
What Does Skirret Taste Like
We did not get a large crop this year so I dug the roots, scrubbed the dirt off them, sliced them and ate them raw.  My kids loved skirret even more than I do, they could not get enough.

I forgot how much I like skirret, it tastes very sweet.  It is the sweetest thing that I grow, which is saying a lot considering I grow so many different fruit trees, herbs (including stevia the so called 'sweet herb") and vegetables (including yacon).  The skin tastes a lot like carrot, if scrubbed off you lose a lot of the carrot taste and are left with the sweetness.  It has another taste to it which I really like, I don't know how to describe it.  It is very mild and subtle, but it adds something nice to the sweetness.

Skirret crowns
How to store skirret
Skirret, like many winter root crops, stores best in the soil to be dug when it is needed.  It can also be stored well in the fridge in a plastic bag.  I have no idea if it can be frozen but I assume it can, if frozen I guess it would be no good for eating raw but should be good for cooking.  I have never tried freezing it myself, so you may need to use caution here.

I left some on the kitchen bench for a few days, it does not store well like this at all.  They lost their crispness very fast and became pretty inedible and droopy.  I did not want to lose any skirret as it is so delicious so I put those limp roots in a cup of water to see if they would rehydrate and become edible once again.  It appears that they do, they are not as good as the ones that were stored properly, but they are still nice to eat again.
Seed grown skirret, some are better than others
How To Grow Skirret
Skirret can be started from seeds, first year plants are smaller and often have a woody core.  Skirret grown from seed often exhibits a lot of genetic variability, this can be a great thing resulting in improved plants, or it can result in substandard plants.  They should all taste similar, but the yield will be different.  Seeds are tiny and do not have excellent germination, my fresh seeds are only showing about 70% germination and the tiny seedlings are inviting to slugs and snails.  Seeds are reasonably cheap and I am told that skirret seeds remain viable for about 10 years.  When buying a packet of 20 seeds it is not difficult to end up with well over a dozen plants which is more than most people will have room for.
Tiny skirret seedlings ready to be transplanted
The seeds are tiny, in spring I sprinkle the seeds on top of soil in a punnet and water them.  I wait until the seedlings have grown a bit before I plant them in their final spot as I find I can protect a punnet a bit easier.

Skirret offset ready to be planted
Most people who have the option grow skirret from offsets.  These offsets are essentially tiny cuttings that the plant makes itself, each one is genetically identical to the parent.  These tiny offsets sit dormant over winter, then when the time is right they start to grow and get a head start on seed grown plants.  They will grow a larger crop with less woody cores than first year seed grown plants.  Offsets are more expensive, and you get one plant per offset the first year.  Each year after that your skirret will divide and flower.

I plant the offsets so that the growing tip is just beneath the soil surface, if you get heavy frost you way want to plant them a bit deeper or mulch the tiny offset over winter.  If you live somewhere without frost you can plant the offset so that the tip of the leaves are just poking out of the soil.  You will need to protect them from slugs and snails while they are little.  The offsets are pretty small, they usually will have no roots at this stage, this is normal and they will grow well from this when the weather is right.
Skirret offsets, they are small but they all will grow
Where to buy skirret in Australia
I sell packets of skirret seeds, they are a great way to grow a decent number of skirret plants.  I also sell offsets or small plants from my better plants on my for sale page, they are a great way to grow known performing plants that should grow larger than from seed reasonably fast.  I only sell offsets from the better plants.

I will sell offsets over winter, but they will be dormant and not do much until spring, if I have any left I plan to sell small plants over the warmer months.  Above is a picture of some skirret offsets next to a measuring tape for scale so that you can tell exactly what you will get if you buy them.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Micro Tom tomatoes

I wrote an earlier post on my experience with some old Micro Tom tomato seeds and growing them out for the first time.  Then I forgot to publish that post...oops.

As it turns out I got some very old seeds to germinate, grow, flower, set fruit and then saved all of its seeds.  I have since posted some of those seeds to other seed savers in the hope that this variety never goes extinct in Australia.  I thought I would write about just how close Micro Tom came to disaster.
Micro Tom starting to die, the stick is 5cm tall
Micro Tom faced a lot of danger

First the seeds were very old and I was not sure that they would germinate.  I planted three seeds and one germinated and grew for me.  That was great, but I need more experience growing old seeds.  I now have some 20 year old and 25 year old tomato seeds (that are not rare varieties) that I am now planning on experimenting with to find ways to increase germination rates in extremely old seeds.  If you have any older tomato seeds that you do not want I would love you to send them to me so that I can experiment some more.

Secondly I did not have many of these old seeds (only 9) so could not play around too much with them.  To this end I planted three seeds and saved the other six for Spring.  I think this was a wise choice as it gave me the best of both worlds.  In Spring I plan on planting the remaining old seeds and see if I can get any of them to grow.  Having such a low number of old seeds and so little experience germinating them could easily have ended this experiment right there.

Once one germinated and started to grow, the weather cooled down and early frosts were a danger as were low daytime temperatures which could prevent fruit set or ripening.  I grew the plants in the laundry over night to help combat this but did not have high hopes that the micro tomatoes would work at this time of year.

Then the Micro Tom plant got a disease, it looked like late blight, you can see it in the picture above.  This disease caused leaf, flower and fruit drop and eventually killed my precious little plant.  Luckily the tiny plant ripened a few fruits before this happened so it only ended up causing me to save less seeds rather than be a total disaster.

I decided to let the fruit hang on the plant for a long time to ensure the seeds and the best chance of being ripe and viable.  Being outside at this time of year is asking for trouble as birds would steal the late fruit so I kept the plant in the laundry which protected it from birds, but this actually caused the next problem.

Our baby almost ate the Micro Tom tomatoes!!!  One day Tracey was doing laundry, she walked out of the laundry and when she returned the baby had stolen all the tomatoes off the tiny plant.  She had one tomato in her hand and a funny grin on her face.  Tracey rescued the tomato from the baby's hand, then she noticed the odd grin.  Apparently the baby had put tomatoes in her mouth but as yet had not bitten down on them.  Luckily Tracey also saved those tomatoes.  In the end the baby did not end up eating any Micro Tom tomatoes and we were able to save them all for seed.

I was also growing another variety of micro tomato from some equally old seeds in a pot next to Micro Tom.  Luckily the baby only picked tomatoes from one plant and not the other, she did not eat them, and she did not mix up fruit from both plants.  Had the tomatoes been mixed up it would not be worth saving seeds from them as I would not have known which variety they were.  If that happened I would only have saved seed to use for breeding as I would not know which variety of micro tomato it was.
Micro Tom tomatoes
What does Micro Tom taste like

Micro Tom is a cherry tomato, they taste ok as far as cherry tomatoes go.  Nothing particularly special unfortunately.  They are better than any cherry tomatoes that I can buy at this time of year, which is a bonus.  They tasted better than the other micro tomato that I grew at the same time, which is another bonus.  They also taste a lot better than an unnamed cherry tomato that I grew in the vegetable garden this year too so overall I can't complain about the taste.  They were not terribly sweet and did not have any great depth of taste, but they were not at all bad.

Perhaps they would be sweeter if grown with proper conditions rather than in the beginning of Winter and more sunlight (and more leaves, the poor little plant was defoliated by disease) should equate to higher fruit sugar levels.  I plan to grow some in Spring and see if they taste better.

I also saved every seed and only ate the flesh of the tomatoes, perhaps eating the seeds in the tomato would have made it nicer.  It is difficult to say for sure, in Spring I will grow more plants and taste them properly now that fresh seeds have been saved.
Micro Tom tomatoes
How does Micro Tom grow

I have only grown the one little plant, I hope to grow a lot more of them to get a better idea of how they perform.  The tiny plant grew less than 7cm tall before it died.  It was difficult to measure its height exactly, probably 5cm to 6cm, and it was cute as a button.  It ended up producing about half a dozen ripe tomatoes but would have produced 20 to30 had it not been killed by disease.

This tiny plant grew in a small pot of soil that was barely 7cm across.  I had planned on growing it in a 10cm pot but could not find one until after it was planted and did not want to mess around repotting it.

I think that Micro Tom could be grown in a plastic cup of soil that has a drainage hole.  I plan to grow some like that and see how it goes, I think the outcome will be positive.  I also have sowed some seeds to see if I can grow them over Winter on the kitchen window and with successive planting provide some tomatoes year round.  So far it looks like Micro Tom will do this quite well.
Micro Tom flowering nicely
What is the point of Micro Tom

Clearly Micro Tom would not be used to feed your entire family, other varieties are better suited for that task.  It is not really suitable to grow outside on acreage, again there are far more suitable tomato varieties for this task as a micro tomato would easily be over run by taller weeds.  While it tastes ok, it is far from the best tasting cherry tomato that I grew this year.  Somehow, even with all of that, Micro Tom will be grown by me for years to come.

Micro Tom is very well suited to growing where space is limited, it is ideal for balconies and window farming.  If it can be grown successfully over winter on the window it can be used to provide a small number of home grown tomatoes all year.

Micro Tom is perfect for children, lets face it they can grow it in a cup of soil and carry it around and pretend it is a little pet.  You can't do that with a 6 foot tall Giant Siberian Pink tomato plant that produces massive 20cm fruit!

Apparently Micro Tom is used overseas by research facilities in understanding genetics, due to its short life cycle and undemanding habits it is considered the mouse of the plant world.

As far as I am concerned Micro Tom is good, but its true potential is using it as breeding stock to create improved micro tomatoes that taste better, return larger crops, and perhaps even a few different colours.  I have great plans of using Micro Tom as one parent to breed superior micro tomatoes, to be honest I can see this being a fun and interesting breeding project and due to Micro Tom's short life cycle I should be able to achieve results relatively quickly. 
Micro Tom fruiting well

Saving Micro Tom from extinction

Micro Tom is a miniature dwarf variety of determinate tomato plant, it is the smallest recognised variety of tomato plant in the world.  

Micro Tom does not grow the smallest tomatoes, that record goes to some larger tomato plants, Micro Tom grows the smallest tomato plant.  From everything I have read it grows a reasonable number of good sized cherry tomatoes on a tiny plant that grows to 6 inches tall at most.  Many growers claim that Micro Tom never exceeds 2 inches (about 5cm) tall for them.

Micro Tom tomato starting to flower
Such a tiny plant sounds great to use for children's gardens, or being grown by balcony farmers as well as people who would like to grow some produce on the kitchen window.  Many elderly people who can no longer garden would still be able to tend to micro tomatoes in a window box or similar.  Being so small means that Micro Tom can be grown in a cup of soil on a window and still produce an edible harvest, people who are renting tiny apartments will still be able to grow these beauties.  Even though one will never feed their entire family from micro tomatoes, I think they are still extremely useful.

Having such a unique set of genes also lends itself well to breeding small varieties of tomato or even using as a dwarfing rootstock on which to graft larger varieties.  The days of having a lot of space to allow plants to sprawl are over unfortunately, we need to breed great tasting smaller vegetable plants or graft onto dwarfing rootstock.  Many of the better tasting 'dwarf' tomatoes still reach 4 to 5 feet tall and are simply too large for balconies.  This is where Micro Tom and other micro tomatoes will become increasingly important.

A few years ago, probably about 10 years, tomato seeds stopped being legal to import into Australia due to quarantine restrictions.  This means that whatever varieties we have now (or anything we can breed from them) are the only varieties that we will ever have.  This also means that people may have some old packets of tomato seed in their cupboards that they imported years ago which may be the only seeds of that particular variety in Australia.  It is important that these varieties are not allowed to go extinct in Australia because if they do we will lose them and their unique genes forever.

Micro Tom seedling
I searched for Micro Tom seeds or plants in Australia.  Overseas many seed sellers carry them but nowhere in Australia had them.  I spoke to some seed savers and they had never heard of them.  I started to think perhaps Micro Tom was not here.  After some of the conversations I had with experienced seed savers it started to seem likely that no micro tomatoes were in Australia.

Eventually I found a very generous grower who said he grew them about 10 years ago and could send me the old seeds, but he could not guarantee they would grow.  He used to sell tomato seedlings at markets and would give away Micro Tom plants to kids whose parents bought plants from him.  What a great idea!  They were so small that they can produce fruit even if grown in a plastic cup of soil with drainage holes.  That very generous person actually sent me the entire remains of the seed packet that he had imported years earlier, we can work out how long he has owned the seeds but have no way of knowing how old they were before the seed company sold them to him.

The old Micro Tom seed packet only had about 9 seeds, given the age of the seeds and probable low (or no) germination rates this means I had to make every seed count.  Being so old I did not want to wait another 9 months until Spring while the seeds age even further to sow them in fear that they would then be too old to germinate.  Being the end of Summer it was not the right time to plant tomatoes so I did not want to waste my only chance by sowing them then and having the plant flower when it is too cold to set fruit.

Having such a low number of seeds meant I had to make a difficult decision.  I wanted to ensure my best chances of growing these and bringing them back from the brink of extinction in Australia, so I decided to plant 3 of these precious seeds straight away on January 31 and hope to get them to produce fruit in time, save the rest of the seeds to plant the following Spring and hope they are not too old to grow.  That seems like the most likely way I can have a positive outcome from this endeavor.

I read about growing old seeds and did a few things to help them, out of the 3 old seeds planted 1 germinated about a week later.  I gave them plenty of time (several months) but the other 2 seeds never germinated, but that one seed germinating so fast gives me hope that I may be able to get some of the others to grow in Spring. 
Micro Tom ready for transplant
This one tiny seedling did not grow very fast, but it looked healthy.  I grow everything organically here, but due to the tight time constraints here I decided to buy a small container of fertiliser and have used it on this one plant.  When the seedling got a little larger I planted it into a pot so that I could move it and protect it as best I could.  Then we had some cool nights down to about 2 degrees and I feared an early frost.  Early frost will not kill the plant as it would be under shelter over night, but it may stop flowers from forming fruit and if it does not produce viable seed then there is trouble.

I have read that Micro Tom takes around 50 days to maturity.  Unfortunately this means nothing to me.  The stated days to maturity for tomatoes are generally days from a 30cm tall plant being transplanted until maturity.  Micro Tom never reaches 30cm tall, I transplanted mine at around 1cm or 2cm tall.  An overseas breeder tells me that Micro Tom takes around 120 days to picking the first fruit from planting the seed.  This means if all goes well the first fruit would be ripe around the end of May.  Given the cooler nights and lowering day time temperatures this may be pushed back further.

Micro Tom 3cm tall and starting to flower
I had started to move Micro Tom into the sun during the day and put it under the verandah next to the warmer mud brick for protection at night.  As the days were cooling I think the plant will grow slower, so I left it in sunlight during the day and moved it into the laundry at night.

The laundry is slightly warmer than the verandah and it has access to electricity.  I have a grow light hooked up and this shines on the Micro Tom plant over night which hopefully will help it grow a little faster as it will be getting more light each day.  People often complain about cheap grow lights not having the right spectrum light, but as it is still getting some natural sunlight most days and the grow light were merely supplemental light this should not be too much of an issue.  The grow light emits some heat as well as light, so the plant and its roots should stay slightly warmer over night.

Micro Tom, such a tiny plant with such massive potential
This tiny Micro Tom plant started to flower at around 2cm to 3cm tall, assuming that any of the flowers work and set fruit I plan to save every seed that this plant produces so that I can do a larger grow out in Spring and get enough seed to distribute.  In Spring I also plan on sowing the remaining few seeds in the old packet, hopefully I end up with a decent number of plants and a good number of fresh seeds.
I doubt Micro Tom will grow a great deal taller than this
I don't grow novelty vegetables or ornamental plants very much, I usually prefer productive edible plants.  Some of my favourite plants (such as perennial leeks or yacon) provide massive yields of food throughout the year.  Somehow Micro Tom has captured my heart, I find it to be a delightful little plant and hope that I can bring it back to popularity in Australia.  I grew the plant in the photos using a 7cm pot of soil.

 I also have great breeding plans (once I have saved enough seed that I am not worried about losing this variety) of using it to create new varieties of micro tomatoes that are higher yielding as well as perhaps creating some different coloured micro tomatoes or some with higher sugar contents etc.

I have plans of incorporating the multiflora gene into any new variety of micro tomato, that way balcony farmers should be able to grow exponentially more tomatoes from the same tiny space.  I have a good tasting dwarf multiflora tomato that I want to use as the other parent in this cross.  Incorporating the multiflora gene into micro tomatoes, in my mind, will be the ultimate goal for every micro tomato breeding venture as it will maximise the use of limited space ensuring the largest possible crop from each plant.

I would be keen in the future to breed some parthenocarpic micro tomatoes which will set fruit in cold weather even if the flowers are not pollinated.  I would love to use Micro Tom as a rootstock for a large fruiting tomato such as Giant Siberian Pink and see if I can grow a very small plant with huge tomatoes. Only time will tell if I get around to these projects though.
Micro Tom, getting slightly larger and flowering well
There are many useful possibilities that simply would never happen if we have no micro tomato breeding stock in Australia.  If you have any old packets of vegetable seeds that you have not seen around in a few years please grow them and save seeds as you may be the last in our country to have them.  If this is not possible then please consider donating them to someone else who will grow them and save their seeds.  We don't want to lose too many more vegetable varieties in Australia!

I now have enough seed that I can sell Micro Tom tomato seeds through my for sale page

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The joy of Winter crops

I like Winter, there are a lot of crops that are never seen in the shops so by growing them myself they are available seasonally and can only be eaten over Winter.  We have just started to harvest a few of them so I thought I should write a post about them.
Skirret - first year plants

Skirret (Sium sisarum)
Now here is one of the greatest, most under appreciated, under utilised and practically forgotten crops ever.  I wrote a post about how I was growing skirret plants from seed earlier.  I should probably write a separate post on them later.  Now it is time to harvest the and eat the skirret.

It has been a long time since I have eaten skirret, I forgot how great it is.  I grew some plants from seed, I over crowded them in a pot which I watered each day by submerging it in a bucket of water, and today I dug up, divided and harvested the skirret.  Normally first year plants have a woody core, none of mine did.  I can not imagine that I happened to chance upon an improved variety, I think this total lack of woody core was due to the huge amount of water they received.

The skirret did not grow a large crop this year, considering the growing conditions that is not unexpected.  However, I was still able to eat a few of the larger roots.  I scrubbed them, chopped them and ate them raw.  They taste a little like carrot but super super sweet.  This is sweeter than anything else I grow, so sweet that I am considering digging up the plants and nibbling on the tiny roots that I initially left on them because they were too small to be worth harvesting.  Truly magnificent.

I have some issues with sugar, I am probably on the edge of diabetes and I often find that fruit juice can tip me over the edge as it is too high in sugar.  I wonder if skirret will cause me any problems here or if the sugars are ok for me.  I guess only time will tell as I only got to eat a tiny amount of skirret today.

Someone in Australia needs to take on skirret as a breeding project and develop a variety with thicker roots.  An improved skirret with thicker roots would be an excellent plant for people to grow in home gardens.  As skirret is not particularly well suited to growing in my climate I do not think that person should be me right now.  If you grow improved skirret let me know, I would love to buy some plants from you.
Skirret offsets divided and  ready to be planted

Dahlias (possibly Dahlia pinnata but more likely to be some crazy un-nameable complex hybrid)
Dahlias were grown as a major food crop by the Aztecs, after Spanish conquest the dahlia was taken to Europe in the hopes that it could be a food crop.  For a few years it was apparently grown as a minor food crop, then the flowers caught people's eye and they were grown and bred as a dual purpose plant for a little while.  It did not take long for this valuable food plant to be grown purely as an ornamental and lost its use as food.  These days most people do not recognise dahlias as being edible at all, it is too bad.  Some people are breeding edibility back into the dahlia, but not many unfortunately.

Over the warmer months I nibbled on the flower petals, they taste like weird celery, not all that special but not bad either.  Over winter the tubers were traditionally dug and eaten.  They look a lot like yacon, so it makes sense to eat it like yacon so I dug a tuber, skinned it, sliced it thinly and shared it with the kids.  It wasn't bad, but hundreds of years of selective breeding for the looks of the flowers has certainly detracted from its edible qualities.  It tasted like a bland celery, or a tasteless carrot with no sugars, or a yacon that got lazy and forgot to taste like anything, it was also a bit stringy.  It wasn't bad, but it also was not great.  It was also a dwarf variety that was grown in a pot so not surprisingly the tuber was a bit on the small side.  I dare say that they would go well in a stew to bulk it out and take on the taste of whatever it is in with as it did not have much of a taste by itself.

I would love to track down an edible variety and see what they taste like as I think it has a lot of potential.  Perhaps one day someone will breed some tastier dahlias and they can be grown once again as a dual purpose plant.  If you grow any tastier dahlias we should talk.
Yacon tubers ready to be eaten
Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius formerly Polymnia sonchifolia)
Yacon is not really suited to my climate, it grew amazingly well near Canberra but it is too hot and dry here for it to flourish greatly.  That being said, yacon is a survivor, it will grow and crop pretty much anywhere.  The crops are larger under some conditions and smaller under others.

This year we got high yields from the yacon, I grew it under a foot of straw and watered it with a green soaker hose that was under the straw.  Apparently it was rather happy growing like that and the plants grew taller than me and even started to flower before the frosts came.  Each plant seems to have produced a lot of large delicious tubers, I like digging yacon in Winter as the smell is unmistakeably like yacon.

I love yacon, I think more people should grow it.  I have yacon growing in three separate parts of the vegetable gardens and I harvested a tiny bit of the corner of one plot.  It gets sweeter if left for a week or so after harvesting before we eat it.  Today I shared one yacon tuber with the kids, they love it even more than I do.
Chinese artichoke tuber
Chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis)
These fun little guys are crunchy, mildly sweet, and look like white grubs.  Unfortunately they did not really produce any crop for me this year, I think they may not have got enough sun during the growing season.  It was also a bit dry where I grew them this year.  As I can not buy them from the shops, this means that I do not get to eat any Chinese artichokes this year...sigh.

Duck potatoes
Duck potatoes (Sagittaria sp) and Chinese Water Chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis)
These guys both take no effort to grow, crop like crazy and are used in much the same way, I can't believe how rarely people grow them.  I grew them in buckets again this year and they were a bit too crowded so they produced numerous small corms.  I am told that 3 corms in a path tub full of soil/manure/water is the easiest way to grow them large but unfortunately I lack the space to grow them like that so am sticking to small buckets for now.

I probably wont eat many of these as they are a bit small this year, I will feed some to the animals and keep some to plant next year.  Being small this year is not an issue as they are genetically identical to the large ones, planting smaller corms will most likely result in fewer but larger corms being harvested next year.

Jerusalem artichoke flower
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus)
Some people love them, some hate them, some are indifferent.  I am indifferent, they crop well so I grow them each year.  I can't really taste them and find them too bland, but Tracey finds them a bit over powering.  They are used like a potato, we have even used them as mash mixed in with potato.  They do not store well when dug so are best left in the soil until they are needed for a meal.

I think they are a great survival food as they are not bothered by diseases, are very prolific, and have many uses.  Our alpacas, sheep, poultry etc seem to enjoy eating the leaves and tubers.  The leaves are apparently very allelopathic so can be used as mulch around perennials to prevent weed germination.
Jerusalem artichoked growing in dappled shade

I am sure there are a few other things ready at the moment that I have not mentioned (such as perennial leeks).  If you are interested I do sell many of these vegetables on my for sale page.