Amazing Artichokes!

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.
    • Turn in cover crops now and you will be ready to plant your summer garden in two or three weeks.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Wall O Water” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.

Amazing Artichokes

Artichokedom’s truest and grandest claim to fame is that a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Queen of the Artichokes in Castroville, California in 1947. The somewhat spontaneous event got both artichokes and her career off to a great start.

California artichokes originally came from Italy. They are actually a thistle plant which is cultivated for its edible flower buds. A full sized plant covers an area four feet in diameter and grows four to five feet tall. The long, arching, spiked leaves are silver-green in color and make the artichoke look like a giant fern. The buds, if allowed to flower, are up to seven inches across and are a beautiful violet-purple color.

The artichoke thrives prefers temperate climates – never too hot or cold. The Salinas Valley of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. It also has deep, fertile, well-drained soils which promote maximum root development for artichokes, which do not like overly saturated soils.

But artichokes are very adaptable and also grow well in Willits. Choose a site that gets full sun or part shade where they won’t shade smaller plants and where you can leave them undisturbed for several years.

They should have rich, well-drained soil so dig a large hole and add a couple of shovelfuls of organic matter and some bone meal. Set plants 3 feet apart, and feed with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer through the spring.

Artichoke plants need to stay moist during the growing season, so use a thick mulch in the summer to help retain moisture. In the fall, remove the dead leaves then mulch with manure and enjoy their tasty buds the next spring.

The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are “terminal” buds produced at the end of the long central stems. The medium buds grow on the sides, and the babies at the base. Harvest artichokes before the buds start to open when they are still green and tight. The harvest season continues until hot weather comes on, in our climate, and you may get a few more in the fall.

Artichokes should be divided and replanted every 5 to 7 years when they become crowded. One plant per artichoke eater will usually produce plenty of tender buds.

The traditional variety of artichoke, grown in Castroville, is called ‘Green Globe’. It has large green heads with thick fleshy scales. A new variety, ‘Emerald’, is a very productive, thornless variety. It has buttery flavored ‘chokes with a large heart and conical shape. It is much more tolerant of both heat and cold, and is adapted to both coastal and inland valley conditions.

Enjoy this tasty delicacy right out of your own garden.