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Artichoke Big Beautiful Glorious!

Artichokes! Big, Beautiful and Glorious! Some call them ‘architectural!’ 

This is a love story that has taken place over many years of taking their pictures in all their stages!

They are a unique garden plant for several reasons!

  • The plants are huge, often with a mature 6’+ silvery wing span.
  • The perennial varieties’ central stem dies and is replaced by pups.
  • They are a member of the thistle tribe of the sunflower (Compositae) family, with spiny fruits and leaf stems! Artichokes, chamomile, cardoons, lettuce and culinary dandelions are in the same family.
  • Their blossom is a beautiful brilliant violet-blue!
  • Long lived! Commercial farmers grow Green Globe Artichokes for 5 to 10 years!
  • Unusual way to eat them, part of the bracts and the ‘heart.’ They are a culinary delicacy to those who enjoy that taste and texture!
  • In 1947 Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville CA’s first Artichoke Queen! Artichoke Festival June 1-2, 2019!

Artichoke Center of the World Castro CA WP Artichoke Festival Marilyn Monroe First Queen 1947

Growing your Artichoke is easy! 

First you do have to decide if you really want one because they are so big. And that space becomes dedicated if you are growing perennial types. Granted, 20 to 30 Artichokes per year per that big footprint doesn’t make sense compared to the continuous immense production of pole beans, zucchini, chard and lettuces, but many do grow Artichokes because they are so amazing, have those humongous artsy leaves, are such a proud plant! Soul food sometimes trumps production! It’s just fun to pull up a chair and watch them grow!

If you decide Yes!, next you put in your gopher prevention system, or at the very least, plant your babies in wire baskets.

Successful location!

Per cals.Arizona.edu: Historians believe the Artichoke, Cynara scolymus, originated in the Mediterranean countries, possible Sicily or Tunisia, where they were first developed into an edible vegetable. In 77 AD the Roman naturalist Pliny called the choke one of earth’s monstrosities, but many continued to eat them. Nearly one hundred percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California. Castroville CA, where the Artichoke Festival is held, is 19 miles northeast of coastal Monterey. Artichokes are the official vegetable of Monterey! Approximately 80% of the state’s total acreage lies within Monterey County. Nowhere else in the world is there such a concentrated area of production, consistently yielding nearly 4 million cartons of delicious artichokes every year. As of Sep 4, 2018, Italy, Egypt, and Spain are the top three growers worldwide.

The Green Globe artichoke prefers temperate climates — never too hot or cold. The central coast of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. Other varieties, some new varieties, have more range of planting area, further south. I’ve gotten a good report from as far south as Long Beach CA, and they are growing well in Colorado even!

Per the California Artichokes Advisory Board, the main propagation method for planting Green Globe artichokes is with root sections attached to basal stem pieces. These cuttings, which are often referred to as “stumps,” [What I have been calling pups] are obtained from established fields scheduled for replanting. The newer varieties, which are annuals, are grown from seeds that are nurtured in a greenhouse and transplanted as seedlings in the field. As of 2007, annuals have overtaken perennial production.

For us growing at home, pups/stumps, are the easiest method. Just let it happen. The main stem dies back, the pups take over!

Artichoke Central Stalk has Died - Pups have taken over! Artichokes Abandoned in Fall return after spring rains!

See the central stalk that has died in the left image?! Beginners think their plant is dying when that central stem gives itself up, but hang on! This is an artichoke’s natural cycle; you didn’t do anything wrong! Pups come up around the parent plant when soil conditions are adequate. Those pups are here to do the job and make fruits as soon as they get bigger, right in the same season! They just keep on coming! The area where the plants on the right image are was completely abandoned, just dried dead stalks the previous fall. But these super healthy pups, taller than the original plants, came up after a major series of winter/spring rains!

Yes, you can grow them in containers, BIG containers! A 24” x 24” x 24” box with plenty of good compost in the potting mix can do the job. They will need much more frequent watering to form heavy, solid buds. And because of all that watering leaching Nitrogen away, they will need extra feeding.

For in-ground planting, they prefer light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Two reasons artichoke plants fail are summer drought and winter soil that’s waterlogged. Adding compost and castings improves soil’s ability to retain water in summer and drain in winter.

The Right Selection of Seed Varieties makes the difference! What do the farmers grow?

Most of the newer annual varieties do prefer a Mediterranean climate but are more tolerant of weather fluctuations and can be planted in other areas and at differing times. For farmers this means that artichokes can be brought to market all year long to satisfy eager artichoke aficionados. For us home gardeners it means a more steady harvest! Cornell’s List

Artichoke Purple Variety of Big Heart Lompoc CA Steve JordanHere are three seed varieties you might consider ~

These are grown by Steve Jordan of Baroda Farms, who bases his choices on varieties commonly found in Italy and France! He is growing some in Lompoc CA, 160 miles south of Castroville, and others along the Colorado River near Parker, AZ – different state, different climate! Here are his descriptions:

  1. Developed in the mid-1980s by a California grower named Rusty Jordan, the big heart is aptly named. It is endowed with a large, fleshy base and weighs in at over a pound. This slightly purple thorn less, 3 1⁄2-5 1⁄2″ giant—the first patented annual artichoke grown from seed—is excellent for stuffing.
  2. The dense and rotund Omaha artichoke (up to six inches wide) owes its striking appearance to its sharply tapered red-and-green leaves. The Omaha is less bitter than many artichoke varieties.
  3. The blocky and vividly colored purple **king** has distinctive green spots at the tips of its leaves. Usually four inches in diameter and bred from Romanesco varieties mixed with other Italian artichoke strains, the king typically weighs more than a pound in peak season. [Plus it is said to be meatier, sweeter] See more!

In addition, here are nine different varieties, how they are different, and pointers about how they are to be cooked, or not, and eaten! From big ones to babies, check out Karen Shimizu’s great post! (The choke referred to is the fuzzy part of the interior attached above and to the heart. It is fibrous and not eaten. If the bud is allowed to bloom, the choke becomes the flowers/inflorescence!)

Start looking about! Experiment! There are many new options! If you are buying from a nursery, do find out exactly which kind of artichoke you are buying. Is it a perennial type like a globe, or if planted from seed, exactly which kind of seed? You need to know this so you can give it the proper care and know what to expect of it.

Companions!

Artichokes have few insect pests, and suffer from few diseases, so companion planting is pretty much a moot point for them. Rather, you plant plants that need the same soil and moisture next to them, outside that anticipated dripline, on the sunny side of that big shademaker! Since most artichoke plants are cut close to the ground during their dormant cold weather period, the area is open for planting then. In SoCal you can have a growing garden almost any time of the year right there.

Planting!

From seeds for annual varieties

To grow in a colder short season area, Northern Star, Emerald and Imperial Star are great choices. In warmer areas you could try these if you want to get an extra early start.

To get first year buds, plant as soon as you can because to set their buds artichokes need a period of vernalization, at least two weeks of cold temperatures below 50°F! January is a chance, but in Santa Barbara SoCal, our last average frost date is Jan 28! Artichokes are frost sensitive, so cover them on possible frost nights. Have your transplants ready to go Jan through March latest. In warmer areas, planting in fall brings an abundant crop March, April, May, and May flowering!

Sow seeds ¼” deep. Planting indoors will be needed to give them the temperature around 70-75°F to germinate and will take two to three weeks to sprout. Expect 70% germination, so sow heavily. To avoid damping off, cover the surface of your medium with vermiculite.

If you want a high yield, give them the room to do it! Planting them 3 feet apart is good, but some large varieties, in super conditions, might need 4-foot spacing. When in doubt, give them more!

From pups of ‘perennial’ varieties like Globe!

Know that most varieties survive only down to about 20 degrees F, so if you want to grow artichokes as a perennial, plan to be around to give them protection during the winter months. In the North, pick hardy varieties like Northern Star, Violetto and Grande Buerre. In warmer southern areas plant Green Globe, Imperial Star, Symphony and Green Globe Improved, or purple-budded selections, such as Opera, Tempo and Concerto.

You can gather a ‘stump,’ a root section attached to basal stem piece, from a fellow gardener or your local nursery. For these perennials, no replanting is required…after blooming, in July, with the peak of summer heat coming, we cut them back. They re-sprout in August, leaf out in the fall, and grow through winter, then produce again the next spring.

See Jessica Walliser’s post for additional excellent overwintering tactics in cold climates!

Care and Maintenance

Green Globe artichoke fields are maintained in perennial culture for five to ten years. Each cropping cycle is initiated by “cutting back” the tops of the plants level to the ground or several inches below the soil surface to stimulate development of new shoots. The buds get smaller and more numerous in the later years, because they’re producing from side-branches off the main stem. When this happens, divide the crowns and transplant them into their own space. They’ll produce for several more years before you have to start again from seed or fresh seedlings. Peak season is March through May and again to a smaller degree in October.

Water & Food A lot of water to the dripline and well drained soil! Add plenty of compost and worm castings for good water retention. Your artichokes are a hefty plant and require a lot of Nitrogen too. Since watering leeches Nitrogen from your soil, feed your plants more frequently than you would your other plants. Such a huge plant has lateral surface roots to the mighty dripline, give it plenty of compost out that far. Just before bud set, give your Biggie some tasty chicken manure! Water well so the nutrients soak in. During the season, you can layer on compost. Whether manure or compost, or both, cover with mulch so the amendment stays moist and feeds the soil. Get that shovel way under those leaves! Extra water at bud set produces large, dense, artichokes.

Pests & Diseases

Though there are few of either, ants and aphids can be a problem.

Artichoke Pups Pests Ants & Aphids

The three pups above are suffering from an ant/aphid infestation. You can see they aren’t able to get their proper nutrients, the leaves are light green. Or maybe they were weak first and the aphids were looking for soft chow. Maybe they can be saved. Get out the hose; spray away at full force and do it again for two, three days until they are all gone! Feed up your pups – some compost and manure – they need lots of Nitrogen. In the cooler time of year, give them a quick foliar feed of fish emulsion that is easy for them to uptake.

Put down a Sluggo type of slug/snail killer to prevent young plants from being nibbled.

Yes, like so many plants, artichokes get Powdery mildew too, a white coating on foliage caused by fungi, that thrive in moist, warm weather. It doesn’t usually kill the plant outright, though it slows it down. The fungal spores overwinter on plant debris, so clean up the beds in fall. Water early in the day and no overhead watering.

Botrytis blight can coat older leaves. If only a few leaves are infected by the blight, remove and destroy them. Treat the plant with a fungicide such as neem oil. Avoid overhead watering. IPM info

Harvesting One plant can produce up to 30 artichokes of different sizes!

When Your Artichokes are Harvest Ready

The artichoke on the left above is starting to open, just past prime harvest time. The one on the right is ready to go! Harvest artichokes as soon as the bottom bud bracts start opening out from the bud. That’s when there are the largest and most tender artichoke hearts, and reduces the risk of aphids and their ant attendants, pincher bugs/earwigs from moving into the buds! But that slight opening of the bracts is not a deterrent to most fans! Cut a 1- to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to avoid those spiky bract tips.

Bonnie Plants says: When you have harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For large, established plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.

4.22.19 Super Tips Per Dale Huss | VP Artichoke Production | Oceanmist.com

‘I would leave the center bud on the plant until it’s ready to harvest. Then the “secondaries” will grow at a faster rate if temperatures are right (warmer). I would not take the center bud off early because if harvested right – it’s one of the best artichokes to eat. Nor, would I leave it on the plant for the same reason. [LOL]

The original plant will die off and one of the “pups” or side shoots, or ovuli will initiate growth and produce in late fall or early spring depending on weather. Around the base of each “spent” stalk are 8 to 12 dormant buds that will initiate growth. Each of these buds that grow will eventually produce artichokes if they get the “chill” they need.’

Chill is a key point to remember. In SoCal about the end of April it’s no longer so cool. Don’t be surprised if these little buds just open and die. The plant doesn’t any longer support their growth. Again, you did nothing wrong. This time it’s the weather at your location.

Storage

Store artichoke buds in the refrigerator as soon as possible after harvesting. Add a few drops of water or mist the stems only. Don’t wash them. Too much water and they spoil faster. Put them in a perforated plastic bag, keep in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually the crisper, for up to 3 weeks.

If you want to save the artichoke in the freezer, it has to be cooked first. Sprinkle cooked artichokes with lemon juice before freezing.

What if you don’t harvest the fruits? Brilliance! Some gardeners grow them for the blossoms, not the fruit! And they bring lots of pollinators!

Artichoke Bud to Blooms Sequence Artichoke Brilliant Purple Bloom - Thistle Family

SeedSaving preserves the best of our local plants, plants adapted to our area!

Artichoke Dried Flowers ready for SeedSaving

If you let one of your artichokes flower, you can wait until it gets to the seeding stage. When the flower head is quite dry the seeds can be collected. Don’t be fooled by the exterior dried look. Part the fuzz down into the flower’s core, pull on a pinch worth of tufts and see if it is dry down in that middle. Sometimes it will be green and moist. If you pull then, the tuft just breaks off. If that’s the case, if you don’t need that space, it may take another month before it’s dry enough on the plant. It’s very dense in there, so no air gets in to dry things. Hope for heat! If you can, let it dry on the mother plant in situ, as it would in nature. It is collecting Mom’s mojo!

Artichoke Flower Still has Color! Artichoke Flower Tufts are Still Green

See that little telltale purple in the center of the left image? Still green on the right. They need to dry a lot more before the seeds will be dry enough to collect!

Artichoke Tufts Broken Off, No Seed Artichoke Seeds

If you don’t dig deep enough, the tufts may simply break away. You will have to push pretty hard to get deep enough to get the seeds.

An easier way to collect the seeds, though it doesn’t get as much mojo from the mother plant, is to cut the head off when it turns brown. Tie a paper bag (not plastic that holds the moisture) over the head, let dry in a cool dry place. Once the flower head is completely dry, shake vigorously and voila, you got seeds! For most of us home gardeners that’s plenty of seeds. If it is a perennial variety, cut it back to ground level. Stake the area where it will regrow; plant in the remaining space until the pups come up later. If it is an annual variety, then the space where your plant was becomes available.

Splendid Artichoke Fruit!


Delicious ways to prepare your fabulous artichoke!

Artichoke Shaved Salad Chef Sarah Grueneberg John Kernick

Shaved Artichoke Salad by Chef Sarah Grueneberg ~ Tasty photo by John Kernick

Basic: If you harvested a bit late and ants/critters have gotten in, put your artichokes in a bowl and fill with hot water, keeping the artichokes under water. The critters will float right to the top and you can pour them out! Cut an inch off the top – a serrated knife works well. Those thorns have a bite! Trim the stem off at the base so the artichoke can sit up while you are cooking it. Do a last minute check in the outer lower petals to assure yourself the critters and any debris are gone. Put them in a steamer basket, cook 25 to 35 mins. Add more water if necessary. Pierce with a paring knife to test the bottom for tenderness; leaves should come off easily when they are done. Use as you like! Right then with a flavored oil or butter dip, or in any other way that you love or want to try!

Common & tasty, eat the artichoke heart, and, dipped in melted garlic or lemon butter, pull the bracts between your teeth to squeeze out the flesh at the base of the bract! Eat the tender heart bite by bite! Delish! If you will be using the heart in recipes, harvest “baby” artichokes—picked before the prickly inner “choke” develops. Cut it to the size you want, chill and add to a tasty salad with a vinegar or lemon dressing. You can marinate the hearts and use them later in salads. Precook, split the Artichoke in half, grill, stuff; eat with a dip of your choice and offer that squeeze of lemon. Add them to stir-fry and pasta dishes, even stews. Ice cream?! Of course! Mix in a tad of Fennel and Lemon or other favored flavors!!

However, these 8 chefs win the award for creative artichoke cookery! Take a peek, check out the amazing recipes!

Artichokes have a long history… In 1699, John Evelyn said: The bottoms can be baked in pies (“with Marrow, Dates, and other rich ingredients”); and in Italy, he adds, artichokes are broiled, basted with “sweet Oyl” and served up with orange juice and sugar.

Here’s to you creating your own love story with your artichokes!
Happy Planting!

All but one of the plant images, the purple Kings, were taken at two of Santa Barbara CA’s Community Gardens by Cerena Childress

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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