Can you grow an artichoke? Is it worthwhile to grow your own artichokes? “Yes,’reported dozens of gardeners. “We get more than we can eat fromjust a few plants.’ Many of the most enthusiastic reports came from gardeners inclimates where artichokes have been considered unproductive, fromMontrose, Colorado, to Parker, Arizona. As the map at right shows, artichokes do best in the coastal fogbelt of California. Here, where winters are mild and summers cool,growing artichokes is a cinch.
With average garden care, you should getgenerous crops for several months in spring; with a little extraknow-how, a smaller harvest in fall or winter. Inland, heat limits the edible harvest to a few months in spring.But with dried flowers selling for $3.50 each, some gardeners find theflower crop equally worthwhile. In low elevations west of the Cascades, plants give large springand fall crops.
But they’ll need extra protection and attention todrainage to survive cold, wet winters. Roots, potted shoots, or seeds– which way to start? For reliability, buy root divisions. They produce the kind sold instores, called Green Globe. Bare-root divisions are sold in Californiafrom late December through February near the coast, later inland. Inspring, and to some extent all year, you can buy these same divisionsestablished in gallon cans for $3 to $5. Look for the stump of the oldroot; otherwise canned plants may be seedlings.
For a less predictable but probably faster crop, use seed-grownplants, sold in cellpacks, 4-inch pots, and occasionally larger sizes.Plants may produce crops of slightly different sizes and shapes–a fewmay even produce only inedible thistles. But seed-grown plants seem tohave greater vigor, often producing much more in the first year thanroot divisions do. In the Northwest and cold-winter climates, onlyseed-grown plants are usually sold. The larger the seedling or root division at planting time, the moreartichokes it’s likely to produce the first year. If your growing season ahead is 180 days or longer, you can alsosow seeds not for a small harvest by fall. Gardeners report good cropsfrom Grande Beurre (on some seed racks) and Green Globe (by mail from W.Atlee Burpee Co.
, Warminster, Pa. 18974; or Thompson & Morgan, Box1308, Jackson, N.J.
08527). To plant bare-root divisions, place the woody root vertically, withgrowth buds and any leafy shoots just above ground. Place container plants with their soil line even with the groundsurface. Sow seeds indoors or in a greenhouse about two months before thelast frost. For better germination, refrigerate seeds for two weeksbefore planting. Plant seedlings into the garden when they’re 4 to6 inches tall.
How the plant grows Each year, the permanent crown sprouts many fountain-shaped shoots.When a shoot matures, it sends up a bud stalk like the one shown atright. Young plants send up a single stalk, mature ones as many as 12or more. For most families, two to four mature plants produce an amplesupply. Space the plants 3 to 4 feet apart in full sun. In areas with hot,dry summers, try for partial shade, but not near trees or large plantswith thirsty competitive roots. If gophers are a problem, plant in wiremesh baskets.
Work ample quantities of compost, manure, or similar amendmentsinto the top foot of soil. If winter rains are heavy, plant in raisedbeds or mounds. During active growth, water thoroughly as needed to keep rootsmoist but never soggy. Fertilize when new growth begins each spring andlightly each month throughout the growing season.
Be prepared to usestandard controls against aphids, earwigs, and snails. Above you see three ways that farmers get larger, earlier crops.The center photograph shows how farmers near the coast spread theharvest over about nine months of the year. Try this only inmild-winter, cool-summer climates. Here’s how it works: After the spring crop, cut off theentire plant 3 to 4 inches below ground. (The depth keeps the number ofnew shoots manageable.
) Let the plant stay dormant for a month, thenwater and fertilize to push growth to maturity for a fall crop. Toexpand the harvest season, cut back some plants at different times thanothers. Wherever you garden, after four to seven years plants will becomeless productive. When that happens, divide soon after harvesting themain crop. Replant large sections as shown above. Perfecting the harvest art The key to quality is to pick early. What you eat is the flowerbud.
The younger the bud, the more tender it is and the more of it isedible. Conversely, the closer the bud is to full size, the more flavorit tends to have. The trick is to pick the bud just as it reaches fullsize, but before the bracts begin to open.
The upper photographs on page 70 show two prime picking stages.Tight round buds that mature in late winter and spring are consideredbest; they tend to be fleshier. Summer and fall buds are looser butshould be picked as tight as possible– at the stage shown or evenearlier. Some seed-grown artichokes may never be this tight. Watch closelyand try a few to find the best harvest time. Judge by bud shape and tightness, not size. Lower buds are fullsize when only 2 to 2 1/2 inches across. Some people prefer the mildtenderness of small buds and harvest even upper buds when 3 to 3 1/2inches across.
The smaller you harvest the buds, the more the plantsproduce. Once flowers form, bud production will slow down or stop. If youwant flowers, grow a few extra plants. Or you can sacrifice the chancefor a second fall crop and let flowers form in summer, after heat makesbuds tough at any size. For cold winters, hot summers In cold-winter areas, after the fall crop, cut back tops and coverthe crown with about a foot of leaves, straw, or similar mulch; uncoverin spring after frosts. Where ground freezes despite such insulation, dig up and storeroots in a frost-free place or grow them as annuals. If cold turns buds white or brown, they’re still edible butwon’t keep long.
A freeze turns buds black and inedible. In the desert, plants may go dormant in summer. Whether dormant orgrowing, mulch roots in summer to keep them cool. Easy basics in the kitchen Wash thoroughly by soaking 5 to 10 minutes in water, then drain. Large artichokes. Slice off the thorny end with a knife and cutoff the thorny tips of lower leaves with scissors.
Peel stem and removesmall leaves around base. To prevent darkening, immerse as trimmed inacidified water (3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice to 1 quart water). Set artichokes in 2 to 3 inches boiling water; they should fit in asingle layer. Cover and cook until tender when pierced through base: 30to 45 minutes for large artichokes, 15 to 20 for medium ones. If youwish, for every 4 to 8 artichokes, season cooking water with 1 1/2 to 2table-spoons lemon juice, 2 or 3 whole cloves garlic, and 1 tablespoonolive oil.
Serve cooked artichokes hot or cold. To stand them upright, cutstems flat at base. Serve with mayonnaise, hollandaise, melted butter,or lemon butter (1/4 cup lemon juice to each cup melted butter). Small artichokes or hearts. Artichokes about 2 inches in diameterare completely edible when trimmed. Slice off the thorny ends and breakoff the coarse outer leaves down to the pale inner leaves (bite an innerleaf to test tenderness; it will taste slightly bitter).
Cook in plain or seasoned water as directed above until tender whenpierced, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot with sauces suggested or cold withyour favorite salad dressing. Or make artichoke hearts with bule cheese(page 114). Photo: Prime for harvest, spring artichoke is round and tight.Seed-grown plants often produce the first year; some may have a purplishtinge or notched bracts Photo: The fall crop is usually spinier, more egg-shaped, andlooser, but still tasty. Cut about 1 1/2 inches below the artichokewhile bud is still this tight.
If stem is tough, the artichoke will betoo Photo: Lacy leaves spread 4 feet tall and wide. To keep plantsmore paoductive, remove old leaves and stalks often. Each of her plantsproduces about 30 artichokes a year Photo: Bonus crop: unharvested buds open into giant thistles 4inches across. One desert gardener says, “Forget about theartichokes; I grow them for the flowers’ Photo: Bare-root chunks sell at roughly half the price of cannedplants this month and next. His finger shows how deep to plant: justbelow leafy shoots Photo: To get more artichokes: as soon as you harvest its lastbud, cut stalk off an inch above the ground.
New sprouts at the basewill grow faster, produce sooner Photo: To change crop timing: after harvest, cut off entire planta few inches below ground. Near the coast, June cut gives bigger fallcrop; fall cut delays spring crop Photo: For an earlier, bigger crop after you divide, take largedivisions like this one. It has stump of an old bud stalk, two newshoots, and an almost mature shoot Photo: The first bud is the biggest Up to 4 inches or more across. This one’s a little too open,but still good Photo: Then comes the second string Two or three to a stalk. Pick soon after the primary–don’twait for them to get as big or they’ll be tough Photo: Tiny buds are called hearts Snap off when 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches across. Slice off spiny end,strip off dark outer leaves.
Cook and eat all the rest Photo: Some people even eat the stalk A large plant may produce up to 12. After harvesting buds, you canpeel, steam, and eat young, tender parts