Artichokes are a delicious vegetable with a unique texture and flavor. They’re the flower buds of a type of cardoon, but this thistle packs more taste and less prickle. They aren’t difficult to grow, so even gardeners without much experience can be successful growing them. Artichokes can make an interesting addition to any fruit and vegetable garden, as well as many different meals. If you want to add these tasty flowers to your garden, then stick around! We’ll explain everything you need to know about growing, caring for, harvesting, and storing your artichokes.
To start, pick an artichoke variety that works well with your needs. Artichokes in general are hardy in zones 7 through 11, but can be grown as annuals in zones north of zone 7. Imperial Star artichokes were specifically bred to be annuals, making them a great option for northern climates. Green Globe artichokes, on the other hand, are best suited for zones 8 through 11 and are perennial.
Make sure to choose a planting location with full sun and lots of room. Artichokes grow quite large, so space your seeds roughly 4 feet apart to make sure they have room to spread their leaves. Your soil should be rich and well-draining for the best results. Artichokes won’t tolerate standing water, and they are heavy feeders. They need a lot of nutrients to grow to their full size and produce flower buds. Plant seeds roughly half an inch down, or start from a seedling. Since artichokes grow slowly, many gardeners prefer to start from a seedling or a mature plant, which can be found in many nurseries.
Planting time depends on the climate you live in. Artichokes are not fond of hot weather, so warmer zones, typically zones 9 through 11, should plant their artichokes in late summer or early fall. In these regions, artichokes make a great addition to fall gardens. Climates north of zone 9, however, can plant during spring.
Artichokes need plenty of water, so it’s important to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. Typically, an artichoke plant will need a thorough watering between 1 and 3 times a week, depending on your weekly rainfall. 1 to 2 inches of water each week will keep them healthy and thriving.
Artichoke plants take an average of 85 to 100 days to reach maturity. However, not all artichokes will produce flower buds during the first year of their life. In some varieties, gardeners even report a taste difference between first year artichokes and those that grow later. For a good first year artichoke, you can go with an annual artichoke, like Imperial Star, which are designed to produce quickly. Green Globe artichokes will also produce buds during the first year.
You should begin to see buds forming a few months after planting. Artichokes planted during fall, for example, typically begin to put out buds in late spring or early summer. If you don’t see bud production, check to see if the variety you’re growing starts producing buds during its second year. Otherwise, your artichokes may be under or over watered. They may also be lacking in nutrients. You can add a balanced fertilizer or compost to the soil during the growing season, once a month to once every other month.
Since artichokes are the flower buds of the plant, it’s important to time your harvest correctly. If you leave them too long they could bloom, and although the flowers are beautiful and smell nice, they aren’t artichokes. The easiest way to determine if your artichokes are ripe is size.
The main, largest bud at the top of the plant is best harvested when it’s between 3 and 5 inches across at the widest part of the bud. This gives you a good sized artichoke while avoiding the tougher, chewier texture that comes with artichokes when they grow past 5 inches across. Smaller side buds can be harvested when they’re between 1 and 3 inches wide. Ripe buds should be fairly firm, and check to make sure they haven’t started to bloom before harvesting.
Harvest your artichokes using a sharp, clean pair of scissors, garden shears, or a knife. Cut below the bud, so that roughly 2 inches of stem will remain attached to the artichoke. The stem can stay on the artichoke until you’re ready to eat it, at which time you can simply cut the stem away. To get your artichoke ready to eat, simply remove the top of the artichoke as well as the first two layers of leaves. Careful! Each outer leaf has a small sharp thorn which needs to be removed carefully before eating. This process is called trimming, and should be done just before cooking and eating.
Whether you enjoy them steamed, raw, or as a dip, these vegetables are delicious and nutritious. According to the USDA, they’re high in potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and even dietary fiber! If you aren’t a fan of their flavor, consider growing them for their flowers. Artichoke flowers are a lovely shade of purple, and their tall stalks make them an interesting focal point. Whether they’re in your garden or on your plate, enjoy your artichokes!
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