Step-by-step Guide to Growing Globe Artichokes

Cynara scolymus (fam. Compositae) Hardy perennial with a useful life of four to five years.

Planting to harvesting time: plants crop in the second year from offsets, in the third year from seed.

Size: the bushy, herbaceous plants reach 90-150 cm (3-5’) high, 1 m (3’) in diameter; immature flower heads eaten when about 10 cm (4”) long.

Yield: about five king heads and ten side heads per plant per season.

The globe artichoke is a strikingly handsome, very large, thistle-like plant which is as decorative as it is delicious. The part of the plant which is eaten is the immature flower bud or ‘choke’. These are produced over several months, from mid-summer through mid-autumn, or even later in exceptionally mild weather. The buds are harvested and cooked; at the table the petal-like scales are removed one by one, and the fleshy base of each eaten. The succulent flat, plate-like structure at the bottom of the flower is eaten last; this bit is called the heart (botanically, it is the receptacle of the flower) and is considered a real delicacy. Globe artichokes are widely grown on the Continent, particularly in the warmer Mediterranean areas. In this country they are considered quite a luxury. Globe artichokes are not often available in the shops, and when they are, they are highly priced. They are very easy to grow, though, and for a minimum outlay, you can have a steady supply of this unusual vegetable every summer. One word of advice: globe artichokes are not completely frost-hardy and need protection during the worst periods of winter cold. Although they are not found growing wild, their nearest relative, the cardoon, is found only in warm, Mediterranean climates. If you live in the far north, or your garden is very exposed, it is best to forego planting globe artichokes, as you are likely to be disappointed.

Although perennial, it is a short-lived plant in cool temperate climates, and needs replacing after three to four years of cropping. As it sends up numerous rooted suckers, replacement from your own stock is an easy operation.

Each plant takes up quite a bit of space; however, its large, pale grey arching leaves are so attractive, that a few artichoke plants can be put among shrubs or in the herbaceous border if you are short of room in the vegetable garden. Although flower buds left to reach maturity and bloom are inedible, the bluish purple thistles are very attractive, and are highly prized by flower arrangers. You can obtain varieties with purple, rather than green, flower buds but, although these are particularly decorative, many people consider them less tasty than the more common, green artichokes.

Suitable site and soil

The ideal position is sunny, well protected from wind and away from trees and hedges. If you are planning your kitchen garden on a rotation system, remember that artichokes normally remain where they are planted for at least four years, and will eventually develop into large, spreading plants. Each plant will need 1.2 m x 1.2 m (4’ x 4’) of room, and this limits the number of artichoke plants you can grow in a small garden. They can reach an ultimate height of 1.5m (5’), so avoid siting them where they overshadow smaller plants. Frost pockets and low lying sites are unsuitable, as artichokes will fail to crop in these conditions.

Globe artichokes are heavy feeders and like a light rich soil which is moisture retentive but well drained; avoid waterlogged soils. These plants will give several years of good crops only if they have a deep bed, rich in nutrients. If you have a heavy soil, double dig it, breaking up the subsoil; lighten the top soil with ashes, coarse sand, peat or grit. All soils should have plenty of well-rotted manure incorporated into them before planting. If you can get it, composted seaweed is a very good alternative to manure; in nature, relatives of globe artichokes are found growing wild by the sea. Dig manure or seaweed in well before planting, in late winter or early spring, at a rate of about half a barrow-load per 5 sq m (6 sq yd). A general compound fertilizer should also be incorporated into the soil about ten days before planting, at the rate of 100 g per sq m (3 oz per sq yd). Do not simply sprinkle it on the surface of the soil; fork it in thoroughly. Bonemeal, at the rate of 450 g per sq m (1 lb per sq yd) can be dug in at the same time and, as it is a slow acting fertilizer, will continue to provide phosphorus for the extensive root system over a long period of time. Lastly, make sure the soil is absolutely free of perennial weeds, because few garden jobs are as painful or difficult as weeding between large, prickly artichoke plants.

Sowing and planting Globe Artichokes

Artichokes can be grown from seed but, although initially less expensive than buying rooted suckers, this does have disadvantages. The main drawback is that plants raised from seed do not necessarily have any of the good qualities of the parent plant, and many of the seedlings will be inferior croppers. Secondly, there will be a longer time span between sowing and the first crops, and valuable space in your garden will be temporarily non-productive.

If you wish to grow the plants from seed, start them in a heated greenhouse or propagator in late winter. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into 7.5 cm (3”) pots. In mid-spring, begin to harden the young plants off in a cold frame, and, when thoroughly hardened, plant them out towards the end of late spring, by which time the weather should have warmed up. In the nursery bed, they can be planted quite closely together, say 15-23 cm (6-9”) apart. In mid- to late summer, 3. these young plants will probably form flower buds; retain the most promising plants and dig up and put the remainder on the compost heap. Remove the flower buds from the chosen plants, if you wish them to be really strong croppers in future. The following mid-spring, plant them out in their final position, spaced 1.2 m (4’) apart.

Alternatively, sow the seeds outdoors, after the last spring frost. Make the drills 1.5 cm (3/4”) deep and 30 cm (1’) apart. Thin the seedlings to 15 cm (6”) apart, to avoid overcrowding. Outdoor sown seeds are unlikely to form flower heads during the first summer, so the selection process is delayed for a whole year.

A far safer method, though slightly more expensive, is to buy offsets from named varieties. If you already have an established bed you can easily propagate new plants from offshoots produced by your own plants. Vegetative propagation ensures that all of the good qualities of the parent plant will be present in the young plants. Buy the offsets in mid-spring, or late spring in cold areas, and plant them out immediately. Plant firmly 1 in trowel holes, 10 cm (4”) deep, in rows 1.2 m (4’) apart, with 90-120 cm (3-4’) between plants. The growing points should just be visible above the soil. Shade them with temporary screening from bright sun for a month or so, until they are established, and keep them well watered.

Cultivation and care

Artichokes need plenty of watering through spring and summer, particularly in dry weather; never allow them to become dry at the roots. In spring, sprinkle nitrate of soda, at the rate of 15 g Q oz) per plant, onto damp soil; this gives the plants a good start to the growing season. On clay soils substitute sulphate of ammonia for nitrate of soda, as the salts in the latter make heavy soils even stickier.

In summer, apply a good liquid fertilizer at ten day intervals; one or two weak doses of chelated iron (marketed under several names) applied when growth is most vigorous is a particularly beneficial treatment if the plants are growing on a chalky soil. Lawn mowings spread around the plants from time to time help to retain soil moisture and also keep weeds down. If weeds are particularly troublesome, hoeing may be necessary. Healthy plants normally produce many more suckers than are needed; in early summer remove all but the five strongest from the base.

Tall plants, or those growing in exposed positions, may need staking. Choose stakes firm enough to bear the full weight of the plant and insert them firmly into the soil. Tie the main stem to the stake, allowing room for the plant to sway naturally; otherwise, the stem may snap in strong winds.

31. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Step-by-step Guide to Growing Globe Artichokes

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