The artichoke is a gold mine of earthy, rich, hearty flavor vegetable with a texture and taste like no other.
An artichoke plant, which can spread into a silvery green fountain up to 6 feet across, makes a handsome, bold addition to any garden. Best of all - this gem of a vegetable can be grown much more efficiently and in a broader range of climates that you might expect.
I remember having dinner at my friend’s home and seeing an artichoke on my plate for the first time. I wondered how I am going to eat this intriguing vegetable and my friend’s mother showed me how to approach the task - I plucked the leaves, dipped them in melted butter and tugged the stem end through my teeth to draw off the tender meat. It was child’s play.
That was a long, long time ago, but I remember being entirely satisfied when all the leaves were gone. Then she told me about the hidden treasure- the tender artichoke heart.
The artichoke originates from Mediterranean region and North Africa, but it was initially cultivated and consumed in the Middle East. This plant is used as food and medicine in ancient Greece.
It was very popular among wealthy citizens of the ancient Rome ( poor people were not allowed to consume artichoke).
Intensive cultivation of artichokes in Europe started in the 15th century, and a few centuries later, the artichoke was introduced to the USA.
What Is There To Know About Artichokes?
Whether you love them, hate them, or you have never tried them, artichokes are just fascinating. An artichoke is, in fact, a type of flower- an immature bud of giant thistle, to be more precise.
Scientifically, the artichoke plant is called Cynara cardunculus, variety scolymus.
Artichoke grows best in a cool climate, on fertile, well-drained soil. People cultivate artichoke as a source of food, but other than that, it can be cultivated as an ornamental plant.
Let’s look at some interesting facts about artichokes.
How To Start Artichokes?
There are three ways to start your artichoke garden: with seed, dormant roots or with shoots taken from existing plants. It is pretty easy to start them from seed under fluorescent lights or in a greenhouse.
I start in February and seed directly into 4-inch containers. Getting a head start is essential to step in producing artichokes the first year, whether they are grown as perennial or as an annual.
Artichoke seedlings need lots of nutrients while they develop, so make sure to fertilize them with fish emulsion or something similar. Transplant the seedlings eight to ten weeks later, but only after the soil has warmed and the danger of hard frost has passed.
The transplants should be eight to ten inches tall, with stocky stems and two sets of true leaves. Because they grow quite large, they should be planted at least four feet apart.
Be aware that artichokes feed heavily, so, for each plant you should work into the soil one cup of organic fertilizer or a shovel of aged chicken manure or compost just before planting. You can also apply ½ cup each of blood meal or feather and bone meal for each plant.
I raise rabbits, so my plants receive a two to three-inch layer of rabbit manure, on which they thrive. A midseason dressing of age manure benefits the plants if you have poor soil.
I have also started artichokes with rooted shoots, but for this method, you have to have a friend or neighbor who has a plant to share. In the early spring, remove a rooted shoot, and then cut a ring around the roots of the shoot with a spade and push down deeply to get beneath the roots.
Ideally, I do that while the plants are still small, preferably less than 10 inches tall. You can replant each rooted shoot in a new location which is spaced 4 to 6 feet apart.
You can also buy dormant artichoke roots at some nurseries. In frost-free climate, you can plant in the fall or winter. In other climates, they should be planted in the early spring, spaced the same as rooted shoots.
The root shanks should be set in the ground vertically, with the growth buds just above the soil surface.
Whatever your choice for starting artichokes, the plants will prosper in slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter. Full sun is the best unless you live in an area with summers - then afternoon shade can prove beneficial.
Regardless of the variety, you plant, you’ll want to harvest a tender crop. There are many factors that can affect the texture of the bud we eat. But the most essential for bud tenderness is water!
Artichokes need lots of water to produce those big, succulent buds. You may have to water up to three times a week during a dry, hot spell. Water also benefits plant’s deep roots, which become quite thick and fleshy. Plant’s roots need to be kept moist, especially during the dry months.
Artichoke has several problems. Slugs may attack young foliage, and botrytis blight can coat older leaves. Beat slugs with slug traps or slug bait.
If botrytis blight infects only a few leaves, remove and destroy them. I also suggest treating the plant with a fungicide such as neem oil.
Harvest And Storage
Flower buds form in early summer atop tall stems which soar out of the center of the plant. Each stem forms several flower buds with the top bud ripening first.
You should harvest buds while they are firm and tight and hopefully at least three inches in diameter. IF buds begin to open, they lose their tenderness. Fully open buds produce striking, large, lavender flowers but are not edible.
Cut a 1 to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to make it easier to handle. The lower buds which develop later won’t grow as large as the top bud.
When you’ve harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For established and large plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.
Benefits Of Artichokes
Artichokes are a remarkable plant with lots of benefits. Some of them are:
Artichokes are delicious, nutritious veggies that, with a little effort can be so easy to add to your current dinner favorites as well as brand new dishes that the whole family will love.
With those long, silvery leaves and strikingly attractive blooms, the artichoke is a unique addition to your vegetable garden.
Growing them isn’t difficult, and with the proper planting, pruning, and watering you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of edible chokes.