Globe Artichokes (Asteraceae – Cynara scolymus)

Artichokes, or rather the globe artichoke is a thistle-like perennial that originated around the Mediterranean. It is a rather big but beautiful, architectural, ornamental plant / vegetable / flower and as such an asset to most home or even backyard gardens, regardless of the type of garden where it is planted and cultivated. Big because it can grow up to 2 meters tall, i.e. 3 to 4 feet tall. The leaves are arched, lobed and can be up to 90 cm long, i.e. between 1 and 2 feet. The plant itself grows quite wide as well so be sure to give the Artichoke sufficient space to grow to its full potential.

The flowerbuds of the artichoke are the actual edible parts which have a delicious, delicate flavor and are thus considered a gourmet vegetable. The flowers buds that forms develop approximately to about 8 – 15 cm in diameter with several triangular scales.

There are several varieties of globe artichokes that can successfully be cultivated in home gardens.

There are the green globe artichokes:

  • Green Globe Artichoke which is incidentally a very popular variety that bears big green heads that can grow up to 4 inches in diameter. This globe artichoke variety also gets grown on a commercial basis from seed.
  • Imperial Star Globe Artichoke with its mild flavor and prolific crop.
  • The Symphony Globe Artichoke and the Harmony Globe Artichoke can also be grown from seed.
  • The Camus de Bretagne Globe Artichoke and the Castel Globe Artichoke are also quite popular because it produces big green flowerheads and is best grown from vegetative propagation or ready-rooted suckers.
  • Blanc de Oran Globe Artichoke, the Sakiz- and the Espanola Globe Artichokes are a medium-sized green variety that can also be cultivated successfully.

And there are the purple globe artichokes:

  • Romanesco Globe Artichoke with its beautiful, big, purple heads.
  • Violetta di Chioggia Globe Artichoke which also sports purple heads and tastes great.
  • Violetta Precoce Globe Artichoke, Violet d’Algerie and the Baladi Globe Artichokes have violet coloured, medium-sized heads.
  • The Concerto Globe Artichoke, the Opal- and the Tempo Globe Artichokes can also be grown from seed.

And of course the Spined Globe Artichoke:

  • Spinoso sardo Globe Artichoke and the Criolla Globe Artichoke are also good varieties to cultivate in a home or backyard garden.

Nutrients in Globe Artichokes

If you are into healthy eating, trimming down, dieting, then Globe artichokes should be a must on your list of food. Globe artichokes are low in fat and loaded with fibre. It has a lovely, delicate, buttery flavour that makes it a slimmer's delight.

Not only do globe artichokes taste great, it is also of great value to your digestive tract. Due to the Globe Artichokes' fibre content, it acts as a laxative; it absorbs water and creates bulk to move 'unwanted' things along in your digestive tract. Globe artichokes also act as a source of folic acid which is an essential element in absorbing iron in the blood stream. This is important for women especially in times of pregnancy, as well as decreasing the risk of developing heart disease.

There is no cholesterol or saturated fats in globe artichokes. Globe artichokes can be considered a carbohydrate and a protein that has vitamin C, Dietary fibre, sodium, Folic acid, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium as well as carrotenoids.

How to grow Artichokes

Where and when to plant your Artichokes

First and foremost, your soil preparation is of the utmost importance. Since Globe Artichokes are sun-loving plants you should plant them in a sunny spot with well-drained fertile garden soil. Though the spot that you choose to grow your globe artichokes should be open and sunny it does not mean exposed. Globe artichokes do not like frost or snow. In fact you should only consider growing globe artichokes if the area you live in enjoys a long, frost-free season with damp weather. Globe artichokes would even be more of a benefit at the back of a border due to its architectural, ornamental looks.

A whole load of special care and mulching would be of great value to successfully cultivating your globe artichokes.

If you are already making your own compost then growing globe artichokes organically should not be a problem.

Dig the planting site thoroughly, incorporating plenty of well rotted manure or compost and apply a dressing of general fertilizer such as blood- or bone meal or manure before planting. Thoroughly rake in the compost, or type of fertilizer into the garden soil to spread the nutrients evenly for the plant.

The best conditions to grow Globe artichokes would be in full sunlight and a rich, well-drained garden soil that will hold moisture.

How to sow your seeds and grow Globe Artichokes

If you intend growing Globe Artichokes from seed then our sowing guide should provide you with the most appropriate times when sowing should occur. When deciding to grow globe artichokes from seed then you should consider yourself advised of the following aspects.

  • It is best to sow your globe artichoke seeds either indoors if the weather is frosty, snowy or cold OR outdoors if the weather conditions permits optimum opportunity.
  • If you sowed you seeds indoors in containers then your seedlings will first have to grow strong before you consider planting them outdoors in the prepared beds.
  • The young globe artichoke plants will have to be hardened off before planting them out.
  • Globe artichokes grown from seed vary immensely. Globe artichoke cultivars will not usually come true from seeds because seed raised plants are variable in quality.
  • It is quite a task to tell beforehand which plants will produce vegetables that are true to its cultivar until heads are produced.
  • It can be a long process because once germinated and in seedling stage it still takes about 2 years for plants to mature to the point of bearing edible flower heads.
  • On the other hand you should consider yourself well-advised to start growing globe artichokes by building up stock in following years by taking offsets from the best and throwing away the poor ones.

If you are starting out a new crop, or indeed your very first home-grown crop of globe artichokes then it is best to start with offshoots or suckers from a reputable nursery or garden center.

You should dig a hole in your prepared garden bed that is bigger than the sucker.

Then you should plant the sucker so that the soil mark on the stem corresponds to the depth of the hole.

Then you should fill the hole with soil, secure the plant firmly and water well.

If you would like more than one plant, then it is always a good idea to grow globe artichokes in groups in the home garden. Then the artichoke plants should be planted 60 cm (or 2 feet) apart and in rows that are 75cm (2,5 feet) apart. These measurements would work well for a medium sized globe artichoke plant. The bigger varieties should preferably be planted with a space of at least 1m (3 feet) each way.

But since these plants can produce anywhere between 12 and 24 flower heads per plant, per season, you should really limit yourself to the amount that would be sufficient for you and your family.

After you have successfully grown, and cultivated your first globe artichokes then you should start thinking of harvesting, not only the flower heads, but also suckers for your crops in seasons to follow.

You should take rooted suckers in spring. (Suckers are also known as offsets.) Globe artichoke suckers can be planted out in between February and April (or between July and September if you are in the southern hemisphere.)

How to take Artichoke suckers

  • Scrape the soil away from the base of the healthy globe artichoke plant. Healthy plants that will produce suitable suckers are at least three years old.
  • Slice down between the offset (sucker) and the parent plant using a sharp knife.
  • Make sure that you leave the parent plant with at least three shoots. Do not cut off all offsets.
  • Choose the offsets with as much roots as possible.
  • Plant the globe artichoke suckers/offsets in well prepared, well-=draining, composted garden soil.
  • The globe artichoke suckers should be planted at least 5 cm or 2 inches deep with a spacing of at least 1 meter or 3 feet between each plant, each way.
  • Keep the newly planted globe artichoke suckers well watered and protected until they are established.
  • Apply a liquid compost tea approximately 6 week after planting the globe artichoke sucker.
  • Make liberal use of mulch to retain moisture in the garden bed where the globe artichoke suckers are planted. The mulch serves a dual purpose in that it will also suppress weed growth in the garden bed.

Taking care of your Artichokes

During the first season:

  • Do not allow the globe artichoke plants to dry out until they are well established. Make sure that the plant is not at risk of drying you when it is hot.
  • Do not allow weeds to take over the garden bed where the globe artichokes are planted.
  • Keep the plants well watered in the first season.
  • Protect the globe artichoke plants from strong wind.
  • Ensure that you plant your globe artichokes in well-drained, well-composted garden soil.
  • Make use of a liquid compost tea or seaweed fertilizer 6 weeks after you planted your globe artichokes.
  • Make liberal use of a good quality mulch to retain moisture in the garden bed where the globe artichokes are planted.
  • If your garden soil is a heavy soil then your globe artichoke plants will be susceptible to the cold. You should then earth up the base of the plant during autumn and cover the crown of the globe artichoke plant with straw to protect it. Even dead foliage of the plant itself can be used to good effect. You can remove these coverings at a later stage when you deem it appropriate and when the globe artichoke plant is not at risk.
  • In its first year, plants need to put all their energy into making growth, so remove any flowerheads as they form. (TIP: This is important to remember when wanting to harvest your globe artichokes.)

In the second growth season:

  • In early spring you should add a mulch of well-rotted manure to the globe artichoke plants to boost growth.
  • Your globe artichoke plants will throw up several flower shoots. Each of the shoots will bear one large artichoke and several smaller globe artichokes lower down the stem.
  • Prune the globe artichokes by snapping off unwanted shoots at the base. Remove small buds when they have grown to about 4 cm in diameter, i.e. 1, 5 inches.
  • Encourage growth of the terminal bud by removing small buds on your globe artichoke plant.
  • Cut back stems in autumn and protect the crown over winter with a thick mulch of bark chippings, straw or other material.
  • In the second year, allow the edible heads to develop for harvesting in summer. Pick the terminal bud (the one at the top) first, when it's large and swollen, but before the scales have started to open - cut off with a few centimeters of stem attached. Pick the side buds when they have reached a decent size. (TIP: This is important to remember when you want to harvest your globe artichokes.).

In the third growth season:

  • Now your plants will start to deteriorate.
  • Replace approximately a third of your plants every year so as to maintain a steady, regular supply of good quality globe artichokes season upon season.

How to harvest your Globe Artichokes

It takes about 50 to 100 days from globe artichoke plants that grows from suckers to harvesting time. That means anytime up to 9 months before you can eat a fresh globe artichoke that has been cultivated in your home garden.

If you happen to grow your globe artichokes from seed, then you will only see the first buds after about a year of growth.

Interestingly enough, you can harvest globe artichokes at various stages. Under usual circumstances the globe artichokes can be cut off when the heads are plump and the scales are still soft and green. In other words, just before the globe artichoke flower opens. The peak season for artichoke harvesting is the spring, but they continue to be harvested throughout the summer, with another peak period in mid autumn. You will also notice that your mature plants, the plants that are in its second season of growth, you can harvest your globe artichokes in early summer and the younger plants that are at harvesting stage can be harvested in late summer.

When harvesting you not only get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you also stimulate secondary growth in your globe artichoke which might result in harvesting a second crop.

Always harvest globe artichokes when the flower heads are heavy with a soft green color. The flower head should be tightly packed with closed leaves. Flavor is signaled by the color that can be seen on the leaf tips. A bronzed or frosted leaf tip will indicate a delicate flavor. Stay away from wilted and mouldy leaves.

You can store your globe artichokes in your refrigerator in a plastic bag, though it is better to use them fresh. When storing your globe artichokes for later use you should make sure that it does not dry out. (TIP: Add a few drops of water to the globe artichokes in the plastic bag and DO NOT wash the artichokes when it is to be stored.)

Troubleshooting Globe Artichoke, crop failure and growing pains

  • A poor crop – you need to plant your globe artichoke plant in fertile, well drained soil. Or it could be that you allowed the roots to dry out in the summer.
  • Only one flower head – it is the plant’s first season. The globe artichoke will provide more prolific in the second and third season.
  • The flower heads are shrivelled and have fluffy mould growth – this could be grey mould infestation. Even though globe artichokes should not be allowed to dry out, it does not mean that they like being totally wet, damp and overcrowded all the time. Globe artichokes need a sunny position. You should control the growth of this grey mould with good hygiene. Increase aeration if possible and avoid overcrowded, damp and shaded spots. Remove all dead buds or flowers to stop the grey mould from spreading.
  • There are yellow spots on the leaves with downy mould underneath the leaves – this could be a Lettuce Downy Mildew infestation. The only remedy here is to remove and destroy the distressed leaves. You may even have to remove the whole globe artichoke plant to get rid of Lettuce Downy Mildew.
  • My Globe artichokes are too small – if you want large globe artichokes then it is advisable to reduce the shoots of your plant down to three shoots per plant when it is in its second season of growth.
  • My globe artichoke plants keep drying out – you should water your plants well and protect them with a layer of mulch especially in hot weather areas.
  • My globe artichoke plants do not flower – it could be that you fertilized and thus provided the plants with too much nitrogen.
  • My globe artichoke plants die off in winter – Even in the second season this may happen. It is mainly due to the roots getting too cold especially in the cooler areas. You should help the roots survive the cold by cutting the plant back to about 10 inches, covering it with a bushel basket or reed basket and then placing mulch around the basket. Make sure that the mulch is at least 2 feet thick then it will help to maintain an even soil temperature.

Uses of Artichokes

Tips for Preparing and Serving Globe Artichokes

Cut off the heads with approximately 5-8 cm, i.e. 2-3 inches of the stem to harvest your globe artichokes. You could even be so bold as to snip the flower head off at the base of the plants if there are no secondary buds on the plant itself.

Wash the globe artichokes under running water.

Pull off the outer, lower petals and trim off the spikes at the end of the scales or outer leaves. Some globe artichokes may even have some spikes on the ends of the scales. The trimming off of the spikes can be as much as about a quarter of the scale. This will take care of the spikes and will then not interfere with handling the leaves when eating your globe artichokes.

Boil the artichokes in water (you may add salt if you so desire.) standing in an upright position in a saucepan for between 20 and 40 minutes. Or you could also steam the artichokes. The artichoke boiling is done when you are able to pull the center petal out with no fuss. At this stage the globe artichoke is tender. If you cover your pot while boiling your globe artichokes, your artichokes may turn brown due to the acids and the chlorophyll that will be oxidized. (TIP: Do NOT cover the pot while boiling the globe artichokes. This will facilitate the acids to boil out into the air.)

Artichokes can then be served, either hot, at room temperature or even cold. Artichokes make excellent appetizers. They taste very good in a variety of dips and sauces. You do not even have to be very adventurous as they will also taste great in plain lemon juice or even olive oil.

If you do not intend boiling your globe artichokes immediately, you can also place them in some vinegary water or even lemony water to prevent discoloration.

Eating Globe artichokes

  • Uncooked leaves left in vinegary water or lemon juice can be eaten with a dip. Dips suitable are hollandaise, mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar (This may result in some discoloration due to the balsamic vinegar color), butter, garlic sauce, different types of chilli sauces and any sauce that tickles your fancy.
  • Cooked leaves are usually the spring vegetable of choice on a four season’s pizza.
  • Together with olives (summer), mushrooms (autumn) and prosciutto (winter)- as the seasons change.
  • Globe artichokes sprinkled with olive oil and barbequed.
  • Globe artichokes in paella with rice.
  • Globe artichokes sautéed and made into a frittata with eggs.

Other uses of artichokes

  • Globe Artichoke tea – this is a herbal tea. In some regions in Vietnam this tea is produced on a commercial basis.
  • Globe Artichoke liquor – in this liquor, also known as Cynar, the artichokes is used as the main flavouring agent.
  • Globe artichoke plants left to flower – these plants have beautiful bright flowers and can be grown in border showing off its bold foliage and large purple flowers.
  • Globe Artichoke medicine – Cynarin is the active medicinal ingredient found in globe artichokes.