Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are large, architectural perennial plants, which are grown for their large edible flower buds and ornamental enough for the flower garden. They can be grown from seed or young plants, are easy to cook and are delicious!
Sow seed in March and April 13mm (½in) deep in a seedbed, sowing two or three seeds per station, with 25-30cm (10-12in) in and between the rows. Thin to leave the strongest seedling.
Alternatively sow seeds in 7.5cm (3in) pots of good compost. Seed-raised plants tend to be variable and spiny, but when good plants occur, suckers (shoots arising from a plant’s root system) can be taken.
Some cultivars are maintained by suckers and, although rather costly, are generally superior to seed-raised plants.
Plants can also be propagated from rooted suckers, bought or taken from established plants from March-April. They should be healthy, 20-30cm (8-12in) long with at least two shoots.
They can also be bought as container-grown plants.
Globe artichokes are not too fussy about soil, as long as it’s reasonably fertile and well drained.
Transplant to their permanent position when they are large enough to handle, with at least five true leaves, allowing 60-90cm (2-3ft) between plants. Water in well.
Seed-grown plants usually flower the year of sowing.
To keep stock young and vigorous, divide plants every two to three years and plant at the same spacing as seeds.
Keep crops weed free, mulch with well-rotted manure or similar in spring when the soil is warm and moist. Feed with general fertiliser such as Growmore or similar in spring, to increase yields.
Water during dry weather.
In cold areas, cover plants with a mulch of straw, compost or well-rotted manure in late autumn, to protect them during cold winter weather.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Slugs and snails: These feed on the young seedlings and you’ll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
Remedy: There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
They become more prolific each year until, after several years, they run out of steam and the planting needs to be renewed.
Remove buds, ideally when they reach the size of a golf ball, with a pair of secateurs from July; before they open and start to flower. After harvesting the main head, secondary heads appear, these too can be harvested, when large enough.
Cooking tips: boil or steam immature heads until tender, drain, remove the leaf scales one by one, dip them in melted butter, vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce and then suck out the juicy flesh from each scale. Finish off with the succulent base. Mature flowers take longer to cook and are less flavoursome, but can be cooked and consumed in the same way. Delicious!
Artichoke companion planting is not especially complicated. Artichokes don’t repel any pests, but at the same time they’re not really bothered by any. Because of this, they don’t really benefit their neighbors, but neither do they need good neighbors. They are, however, very heavy feeders that require extra rich, slightly alkaline soil. The best companions for artichoke plants have similar soil requirements. Peas, in particular, are good artichoke plant companions because they exude nitrogen that artichokes will gladly leech up from the soil. Some other good artichoke plant companions include sunflowers, tarragon, and members of the cabbage family. The artichoke “vegetable” that we eat is actually a flower bud. If you don’t harvest the bud and allow it to bloom, it becomes a huge clover-like flower that will attract all kinds of beneficial pollinators to your garden.