Harvesting Globe Artichokes
Newly planted artichokes should not be allowed to crop the first year after planting. Some small flower buds may appear during the first summer, and these should be pinched out as soon as they are seen. This allows the young plant to channel its energy into the development of strong, healthy roots, which will in turn lead to heavier future crops.
In the second summer after planting, large terminal buds, known as ‘king heads’ will form. If you are aiming for fewer, but larger, heads, then cut off the smaller, lateral buds which surround the king head. If you wait until these lateral buds are about 5 cm (2”) long, you can eat them, either raw, pickled, or fried. Alternatively, if it is quantity, rather than quality and size that you require, leave the lateral buds on the plant to develop fully. By removing the king head, even more lateral buds will form, which can then be bottled in oil.
Pick the king heads first, when they are about 10 cm (4”) in diameter, leaving about 15 cm (6”) of stalk attached. It is most important to harvest this crop at exactly the right moment; if you leave it slightly too long, all will be lost. A head ready for picking will have green, tightly packed leaves which should not be starting to open for flowering. No blue-purple thistle should be showing at the top. The immature, but ripe-for-eating artichoke is smaller than the full grown artichoke, but the latter is absolutely inedible.
Each plant should produce about five king heads. Once the king heads are picked, more side-shoots develop, and smaller heads will grow on these, thus extending the season of cropping.
If you are faced with a sudden glut of artichokes ready for picking, do not leave them on the plant to go to seed. If you cut them with about 30 cm (1’) of stalk attached, and push the stems into damp sand, they will keep for about a week.
Care after harvesting
After all the good heads have been gathered, cut down the stems to ground level. Winter protection for the crowns depends on the location of your garden. In very mild areas, cutting back the leaves by half, and then tying the remainder firmly together is adequate protection. In most places, more protection will be necessary if the plants are not to die completely. In mid-autumn cut off the large outer leaves, and earth up the inner leaves with strawy manure and a covering of bracken or wood shavings, 10 cm (4”) deep, or a mulch ofor leaf mould.
Leafmould may tend to scatter in strong winds, so it is a good idea to keep it in place with hazel twigs or wire mesh.
Although artichokes are not particularly frost hardy, too much winter protection can do more harm than good. If the plants are covered too long, they will make early, soft, lush growth which will quickly succumb to any late spring frosts. Secondly, crowns buried under wet straw for too long are liable to rot away completely. Remove the coverings in early to mid spring. It is better to do this, replacing the protection if there is a late frost, rather than leave it on until all danger of frost has passed. No row should be left to grow after it is more than four years old. Plant a new row of offsets each year, so the old rows can be dug up and replaced.