It is a joyous time in the garden and allotment as well as in the kitchen—with so many delightful flavors and textures. I don’t think that folks eat enough artichokes. Perhaps, some have just never eaten one, or do not know how to prepare them. Artichoke plants thrive best where mild winters and cool, foggy summers prevail. In such growing conditions, they are perennials, yielding harvests for up to 5 years. Where winters dish up only a few frosty nights, plants will sometimes overwinter when pruned and mulched.
Where artichokes are perennial, select your site considering that plants will be in place for up to 5 years. Give plants room to spread, since mature plants can reach 3 to 4 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide. Artichokes thrive in full sun to partial shade. They also need light, fertile, organic well-drained soil – sandy is ideal.
Flower buds form in early summer atop tall stems that soar out of the center of the plant. Each stem forms several flower buds, with the top bud ripening first. Harvest buds while they’re tight and firm and hopefully at least 3 inches in diameter; if buds begin to open, they lose their tenderness. Fully open buds are inedible but produce striking, large, lavender flowers. Cut a 1- to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to make it easier to handle. The lower buds that develop later won’t grow as large as the top bud. When you have harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For large, established plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.
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