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Can you grow an artichoke?

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 surface.

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 supply.

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 mesh baskets.

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 others.

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 earlier.

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 produce.

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 olive oil.

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 (page 114).

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 too

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
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1985
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