"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Ultimate Survival Food

A few days back my faithful cohorts and I covered our last row of sun roots with leaves in order to provide insulation and easier access in the winter as we store most of these tubers right where they grow. The leaf mulch helps to keep the soil from freezing, making it much easier to harvest the roots once the snow has been removed. I was under strict orders from my wife not to use too many leaves until the grandson had a chance to jump around in the massive pile we had created for him...and did he ever. Last February the lad helped dig some Sun Roots or Pirate's Booty and was once again cheerfully helping to cover this year's crop. A finer little apprentice could never be had.

We trim the stalks back when covering with mulch but leave enough showing so we can easily find them in the snow.

Sun roots are one of the few crops we do leave in the ground all winter as they need cold weather to turn the carbohydrates (inulin) in them into fructose making them much more user friendly and allowing one to avoid a case of vaporous exhalations ...(gas). They can also be put in a plastic bag and left in the refrigerator for a few days before using in order to help with the inulin conversion. The tubers have thin skins and will dry out quickly if the proper storage precautions are not taken. We do store some in the root cellar but make sure they are kept in cool damp soil.

These perennial plants produce quite an amazing tuber and should be considered one of the ultimate survival foods if you ask me. This member of the sunflower family thrives from zones 3 - 9 and is reportedly cold hardy down to -50°, now that's a pretty wide range of zones and degrees. They are extremely prolific and once planted can become a permanent member of the vegetable garden, easily spreading through the smallest pieces of root. They make a great hedge or windbreak as they will grow anywhere from 6-11' feet tall, many of ours were easily taller than that this year. If given enough time they will produce a lovely yellow flower similar to that of a small sunflower head. I have never once been able to save seeds off them though, just not enough summer around here. :(

We plant ours 6" deep and about 12 or so inches apart. You can cut the tuber up as you would a potato as long as each piece contains an eye and is not allowed to dry out before planting. I prefer, as with potatoes, to plant them whole as I feel we end up with bigger more numerous knobby little tubers that way. Besides, after the first year there will be more than enough to go around as each plant produces anywhere from 15-50+ each. They don't require a lot of water but, as with many succulent root vegetables, providing a little more moisture will give you bigger roots. They will also grow much better if divided and replanted each year after the plant has died back or before it begins to grow again in the early spring.

Containing as many energy giving carbohydrates as a potato, sun roots break those carbs down into fructose rather than glucose and will not raise blood sugar levels making them an excellent food source for diabetics and calorie counters alike. Unlike a potato they can be eaten raw or cooked, a most functional vegetable that can be prepared exactly as you would a potato: baked, fried, soup, etc. I have read that they even act as an appetite suppressant, although I have not personally noticed this, and immune system stimulant via their prebiotic promotion of good bacteria in the digestive tract...hence the vaporous exhalations.

So, ultimately, you can see why I am so very impressed with the extremely hardy, versatile, and healthy, sun root that is fast becoming one of my favorite vegetables. A great source for them is Fedco Seed's Moose Tuber division http://www.fedcoseeds.com/moose.htm.

I tried really hard to take a picture of them this summer but green against green simply looks green.


Stefaneener said...

Sounds very interesting.

Oh, and to hijack your comments, for both you and Heiko, look here:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt160.shtm for more about bamboo.

There are companies, like Southwest Trading Company, which treat it like linen and use the plain fibers, but most are using pretty toxic methods for processing, like any other rayon.

Stefaneener said...

No, SWTC is now not doing what I said. Oh well.

Mr. H. said...


Please feel free to comment about anything anytimeon this blog. It is really too bad that they appear to have taken such a wonderful product and decimated it with toxic chemicals.

There are a few places that sell organic bamboo clothing like -


but I am not sure who their suppliers are or how you would be able to obtain the raw product. The clothes look wonderful though.

Anonymous said...

Mr. H.,
Love how your grandson helps and plays in your garden. It will definetly have a love of gardening when he grows up.

jairus' daughter said...

Thanks for this post! I just pulled up the first bunch of mine. I planted them on a whim and wasn't sure what I'm going to do with them... I think a lot will stay in the ground to multiply for posterity =) but i look forward to snacking raw!

Diane@Peaceful Acres said...

Mike, I've never heard of sun roots. I bookmarked them and of course they are going to be added to my "next year" list. What would I do with a "next year"!

Mr. H. said...


I really do enjoy trying to teach him things even though he really is not all that interested at times. But hey, I'm trying.:)

Mr. H. said...

jairus' daughter,

Good for you! remember to chill them for a couple days before consuming. They are great raw, grated over a salad.:)

Mr. H. said...


I think you will find them to be an amazing source of nutrition. There is quite a bit of information online about them, or inulin in particular, very interesting stuff.

Anonymous said...

Mr. H.,
Thanks for the comment on my blog -
If you would like to make a mosiac it's a free program that someone just told me about at http://www.photoscape.org/

Heiko said...

Looking back at your older post, I realised you are talking about Jerusalem Artichokes. I have heard of them, but never found anywhere you could get your tubers. You couldn't send some over could you?

Saying that having just looked at a couple of photos on Wikipedia, it looks very much like a plant that grows wild in the river valley near here. I kept thinking, they look a little like sunflowers. Maybe I should dig a couple up and see what the tubers look like.

On Stefaneener and the bamboo, yes I have recently now found that a lot of bamboo is not organic, neither in growing nor processing. For the growing it seems particularly daft, because you can literally watch it grow without doing anything to it.

But thanks for pointing it out. Just shows one should never accept things immediately at face value. If our land was flatter and easier to work, I'd give it over completely to bamboo production as a cash crop.

Gary Jen and Ruby said...

Hello Mr H,

There's an Award for you on our blog, we hope that you will accept it!

Gary & Jen & Ruby

WeekendFarmer said...

"vaporous exhalations" : ) That will be my stmt of the day!

Lovely post. I am not sure if I ever had them...but in my mind I keep thinking they might taste like water chestnuts. I could be wrong.

Mama JJ said...

Can you please describe how they tastes?

Mr. H. said...


Thanks, I look forward to checking it out.:)

Mr. H. said...


I hope you do check them out, it would be really neat if they were indeed growing in your river valley. If they are not, I will bring some with the next time I come by that way.:) Good luck tomorrow.

Mr. H. said...

Gary Jen and Ruby,

Thanks, I'll be heading that way momentarily

Mr. H. said...


They have a similar texture to water chestnuts but have an almost sweet flavor, maybe even a little nutty...hard to describe.

Mr. H. said...

Mama JJ,

It really is hard for me to describe the flavor, nutty, potato like but a little more sweet. If you ever try them please let me know how you thought they tasted.

Ayak said...

Mr H: I popped over here to thank you for your extremely gracious apology on Heiko's blog. I have made three posts saying just this but they don't seem to have been printed..I know Heiko vets all his comments so maybe they will appear at some point. However...thankyou...and apologies from me if I didn't grasp your sense of humour...I hope there are no hard feelings.

And now I'm here, I'm going to add you to my blog list as this is indeed a very interesting blog.

But I promise I won't give you any awards!!

Very best wishes
Ayak xx

Mr. H. said...


Thanks, I'm am happy to hear that and I look forward to reading through more of your blog as well.:)

Silke said...

Hi Mr. H., are you talking about Jerusalem artichokes? At least that's what they look like to me. We eat them a lot in soups and stews instead of potatoes. In New Mexico they grew wild everywhere! Here, we can find them at the health food store. I like the way they taste! I'm glad you had your trusty helper with you and hope you jumped with him in the huge pile of leaves... :) Silke

Mr. H. said...


I did not jump in the big pile of leaves with him this year as they were very wet. Now he did not care, and took a solo plunge...but I had no interest in being wet for the rest of the day. Next year I will jump first.:)

Yes, Jerusalem artichokes, aren't they great!

Silke said...

Hi Mr. H., I was just looking at my favorite Bon Appetit magazine from November 1994 to plan our Thanksgiving dinner and came across a recipe for Jerusalem Artichokes with Rosemary. I thought I'd share:

8 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried)
3 pounds Jerusalem artichokes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine oil and rosemary in large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Scrub Jerusalem artichokes under cold running water (do not peel). Cut in half. Immediately add to the oil mixture and toss to coat.

Arrange artichokes, cut side down, on heavy large baking sheet. Bake until artichokes are just tender and cut sides are golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to platter. Season with salt; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

:) Silke

Mr. H. said...


That is my wife's favorite magazine and she is looking at some old copies tonight...they only go back to 2007 though. We...she, made your version of apple crisp tonight, with a few dried and diced plums thrown in, and the smell has been driving me crazy all day. I was looking forward to telling you about it and am most impatient to try it, thanks in big part to you.:)

I WILL try the sun root recipe as well, we were discussing how best to eat them just the other day...our world revolves around food. Thank you! This is fun.

Robbyn said...

Wow, had no idea sunchokes are that easy on diabetics...it's been on our list but just haven't planted any yet. So much good stuff here, you two! Thanks for sharing it all :)

Mr. H. said...


They are a very neat food source. We have only been growing them for a few years but are very impressed with how well they seem to grow for us. I hope you get a chance to try them sometime.

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