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.