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One of the most lovely vegies you can grow in your garden is a Globe Artichoke.
These are tough survivors; needing minimal water, and although plants die off in summer after flowering, they come back every autumn, reshooting from the base (which can be divided to give you more plants). Each plant will produce for 4 – 7 years. When side shoots are about 40 – 50cms tall, carefully remove them from the parent plant with a sharp spade and give them a spot of their own to grow.
Globe Artichokes also grow well from seed – in fact if you leave spent heads on the ground, you will find in spring many tiny seedlings will emerge – you can carefully divide these up and quickly your plants will multiply.
Globe Artichokes are actually a type of thistle and it is the immature flower head you eat. The tough, outer parts of the flower aren’t particularly edible – it is the softer heart that is most prized. The outer ‘leaves’ do have an edible bit of ‘pulp’ at the lower section – scraping these through your teeth will result in more edible material and something the kids find quite fun to do. The closer in you get to the centre – the more flesh to feast on! The stem below the flower is also edible to eat.
Artichokes can be steamed, fried, boiled and roasted and have a lovely flavour. I really love them pickled, but confess I have never bothered to go through this process of preserving them myself. One day!!
Should you forget to harvest your chokes, you will be rewarded with an amazing display of bright purple flowers that bees LOVE. The colour is quite dazzling, displayed against the architectural silver/green foliage – in my opinion they are worth growing for aesthetic appeal alone!
The foliage can be used in floral arrangements and lasts quite well indoors. (In fact, I am surprised it is not used more widely by florists – perhaps they haven’t discovered it yet?)
You can plant artichokes almost year-round from seed or seedlings. They do grow quite large, so give them at least 1 – 1.5 metres to spread in width and height. They prefer improved soil, and watering over summer. They can handle full sun but will droop if thirsty, recovering once the sun abates. Feed them when starting to form flower spikes for increased flowering.
Harvest the artichokes when they are young – leaving them too long will (a) make the choke coarse and less palatable; and (b) discourage the plant from setting more. Regular harvesting will mean the plant will produce many side shoots. These will be smaller, but still just as tasty! A well-tended artichoke may produce at least 20 flower heads, so they are quite prolific.
Generally pest and disease free – watch for mites which will damage the leaves and may require treatment. Aphids and snails may also be a concern.
Once plants have finished flowering and are ‘spent’, they can be cut down to just above ground level and left alone.
Green and purple artichoke varieties are available – it is the buds which look different; the flavour is the same to me.
Resources for Growing Organic Veggies & Herbs: