A native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, the yacon is a sweet, tender root vegetable that can be grown here at home. As relative of the sunflower, it can most easily be compared to the Jerusalem artichoke, which falls in the same family. The flavor—said to taste like a combination between a pear, apple, carrot and celery—is often thought of as fruit, though it’s the tubers you eat.
Depending on your hardiness zone, yacons can be grown as annuals (in the north) or perennials (in the south). They’re hardy to zone 8, but require a five- to six-month growing period, so keep that in mind if you plan to grow it as an annual in northern regions.
The yacon is an economical plant to grow, because after you purchase the original rhizome, you’ll be able to continue harvesting off of the plant for years to come. In the spring, you plant the rhizome, and roots form. Tubers will grow off of each root—with one plant yielding as much as 22 pounds of edible vegetable, according to research done by Master Gardeners in California. You can harvest the tuber after the five- to six-month growing period, or for northern climates, when the frost kills back the plant. Then you can dig up the rhizomes, and store them in sand in your refrigerator until the next growing season.
When planting yacons in the spring or early summer, remove all the weeds around the area in the garden where you’ll be siting the plant. Weed roots will compete with the yacon tubers, resulting in less yield. Amend the soil with bonemeal to promote root development, and if you’d like, and high-potassium fertilizer. (Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, as that will promote vegetative growth, taking energy away from the tubers.)
Yacon plants will grow as much as 8 feet tall. While caging or staking isn’t necessary, you may decide to play around with what works best in your garden.
If you’re itching to try something new in the garden this year, yacons could be the way to go. And we’re pretty sure their flavor will win over even the pickiest eaters in your family.