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 from
just a few plants.’
Many of the most enthusiastic reports came from gardeners in
climates where artichokes have been considered unproductive, from
Montrose, Colorado, to Parker, Arizona.
As the map at right shows, artichokes do best in the coastal fog
belt of California. Here, where winters are mild and summers cool,
growing artichokes is a cinch. With average garden care, you should get
generous crops for several months in spring; with a little extra
know-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 the
flower crop equally worthwhile.
In low elevations west of the Cascades, plants give large spring
and fall crops. But they’ll need extra protection and attention to
drainage to survive cold, wet winters.
Roots, potted shoots, or seeds– which way to start?
For reliability, buy root divisions. They produce the kind sold in
stores, called Green Globe. Bare-root divisions are sold in California
from late December through February near the coast, later inland. In
spring, and to some extent all year, you can buy these same divisions
established in gallon cans for $3 to $5. Look for the stump of the old
root; otherwise canned plants may be seedlings.
For a less predictable but probably faster crop, use seed-grown
plants, sold in cellpacks, 4-inch pots, and occasionally larger sizes.
Plants may produce crops of slightly different sizes and shapes–a few
may even produce only inedible thistles. But seed-grown plants seem to
have greater vigor, often producing much more in the first year than
root divisions do. In the Northwest and cold-winter climates, only
seed-grown plants are usually sold.
The larger the seedling or root division at planting time, the more
artichokes it’s likely to produce the first year.
If your growing season ahead is 180 days or longer, you can also
sow seeds not for a small harvest by fall. Gardeners report good crops
from Grande Beurre (on some seed racks) and Green Globe (by mail from W.
Atlee Burpee Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974; or Thompson & Morgan, Box
1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527).
To plant bare-root divisions, place the woody root vertically, with
growth buds and any leafy shoots just above ground.
Place container plants with their soil line even with the ground
Sow seeds indoors or in a greenhouse about two months before the
last frost. For better germination, refrigerate seeds for two weeks
before planting. Plant seedlings into the garden when they’re 4 to
6 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 at
right. Young plants send up a single stalk, mature ones as many as 12
or more. For most families, two to four mature plants produce an ample
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 plants
with thirsty competitive roots. If gophers are a problem, plant in wire
Work ample quantities of compost, manure, or similar amendments
into the top foot of soil. If winter rains are heavy, plant in raised
beds or mounds.
During active growth, water thoroughly as needed to keep roots
moist but never soggy. Fertilize when new growth begins each spring and
lightly each month throughout the growing season. Be prepared to use
standard 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 the
harvest over about nine months of the year. Try this only in
mild-winter, cool-summer climates.
Here’s how it works: After the spring crop, cut off the
entire plant 3 to 4 inches below ground. (The depth keeps the number of
new shoots manageable.) Let the plant stay dormant for a month, then
water and fertilize to push growth to maturity for a fall crop. To
expand the harvest season, cut back some plants at different times than
Wherever you garden, after four to seven years plants will become
less productive. When that happens, divide soon after harvesting the
main crop. Replant large sections as shown above.
Perfecting the harvest art
The key to quality is to pick early. What you eat is the flower
bud. The younger the bud, the more tender it is and the more of it is
edible. Conversely, the closer the bud is to full size, the more flavor
it tends to have. The trick is to pick the bud just as it reaches full
size, 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 considered
best; they tend to be fleshier. Summer and fall buds are looser but
should be picked as tight as possible– at the stage shown or even
Some seed-grown artichokes may never be this tight. Watch closely
and try a few to find the best harvest time.
Judge by bud shape and tightness, not size. Lower buds are full
size when only 2 to 2 1/2 inches across. Some people prefer the mild
tenderness of small buds and harvest even upper buds when 3 to 3 1/2
inches across. The smaller you harvest the buds, the more the plants
Once flowers form, bud production will slow down or stop. If you
want flowers, grow a few extra plants. Or you can sacrifice the chance
for a second fall crop and let flowers form in summer, after heat makes
buds tough at any size.
For cold winters, hot summers
In cold-winter areas, after the fall crop, cut back tops and cover
the crown with about a foot of leaves, straw, or similar mulch; uncover
in spring after frosts.
Where ground freezes despite such insulation, dig up and store
roots in a frost-free place or grow them as annuals.
If cold turns buds white or brown, they’re still edible but
won’t keep long. A freeze turns buds black and inedible.
In the desert, plants may go dormant in summer. Whether dormant or
growing, 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 cut
off the thorny tips of lower leaves with scissors. Peel stem and remove
small leaves around base. To prevent darkening, immerse as trimmed in
acidified water (3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice to 1 quart water).
Set artichokes in 2 to 3 inches boiling water; they should fit in a
single layer. Cover and cook until tender when pierced through base: 30
to 45 minutes for large artichokes, 15 to 20 for medium ones. If you
wish, for every 4 to 8 artichokes, season cooking water with 1 1/2 to 2
table-spoons lemon juice, 2 or 3 whole cloves garlic, and 1 tablespoon
Serve cooked artichokes hot or cold. To stand them upright, cut
stems 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 diameter
are completely edible when trimmed. Slice off the thorny ends and break
off the coarse outer leaves down to the pale inner leaves (bite an inner
leaf to test tenderness; it will taste slightly bitter).
Cook in plain or seasoned water as directed above until tender when
pierced, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot with sauces suggested or cold with
your favorite salad dressing. Or make artichoke hearts with bule cheese
Photo: Prime for harvest, spring artichoke is round and tight.
Seed-grown plants often produce the first year; some may have a purplish
tinge or notched bracts
Photo: The fall crop is usually spinier, more egg-shaped, and
looser, but still tasty. Cut about 1 1/2 inches below the artichoke
while bud is still this tight. If stem is tough, the artichoke will be
Photo: Lacy leaves spread 4 feet tall and wide. To keep plants
more paoductive, remove old leaves and stalks often. Each of her plants
produces about 30 artichokes a year
Photo: Bonus crop: unharvested buds open into giant thistles 4
inches across. One desert gardener says, “Forget about the
artichokes; I grow them for the flowers’
Photo: Bare-root chunks sell at roughly half the price of canned
plants this month and next. His finger shows how deep to plant: just
below leafy shoots
Photo: To get more artichokes: as soon as you harvest its last
bud, cut stalk off an inch above the ground. New sprouts at the base
will grow faster, produce sooner
Photo: To change crop timing: after harvest, cut off entire plant
a few inches below ground. Near the coast, June cut gives bigger fall
crop; fall cut delays spring crop
Photo: For an earlier, bigger crop after you divide, take large
divisions like this one. It has stump of an old bud stalk, two new
shoots, 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’t
wait 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 can
peel, steam, and eat young, tender parts