Each year I like to grow something new. Even if I haven’t eaten it before, I find that if I grow it, and eat it fresh picked, I usually find myself falling in love with a new food. This year I am going to grow artichoke for the first time. What prompted this was a photograph I saw in a magazine of this beautiful vertically growing flower in a garden filled with brightly colored flowers. Kind of a contemporary cottage garden feel, but these tall vertical plants didn’t have a bright flower on top; they had tall sturdy stems with more of a ball shaped flower. I looked closer and saw that it was an artichoke. It looked amazing in the garden, so even if I don’t eat it, the texture and visual appeal that it adds to the garden is worth learning how to grow this new plant.
Globe Artichoke, Cynara scolymus L, is a member of the Sunflower Family. Low in fat and higher than most vegetables in protein, this flower is a delicious treat. I have tried it steamed and was taught to peel off the petals of the immature flower and scrape the fleshy portion along my bottom teeth, eating only this part and discarding the rest of the tough “skin”. I was told that if I dipped it in mayo, it was even better. This was new to me, tasted good, but I haven’t tried it since. As far as world production, Artichokes are grown primarily in Italy, Spain, and Argentina. So probably because it is not a very common vegetable at my local farmers market, artichokes fell off of my edible radar.
Artichoke is a perennial to zone 7, but can be grown as an annual in cooler zones if you choose the right variety. Artichokes bloom during their second year when grown as a perennial. Eliot Coleman writes in his book The New Organic Grower that you can trick your plants by starting the seeds and growing them in warm conditions for 6 weeks, then placing them in cooler conditions for up to 6 weeks. The plant will then think that it is a two year old plant. I don’t have 12 weeks! Johnny’s Selected Seeds suggests vernalizing seedlings by planting them outside with nighttime temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 6-8 days while also providing protection from frost. I am growing Imperial Star, which Johnny’s says is easiest to grow from seed. These should bloom in about 85 days. I’ll try that since my frost free date is in about 7 weeks. I am behind! They will just mature later in the season if I can get them outside at the beginning of May. The urgency I am feeling run through my veins is increasing each day!
Check your seed starting plan. Next week is going to be a big one, but for now, get your artichoke seeds planted!