We got a real “mother load” of artichokes this year. Maybe it was all the rain. Maybe it was a fact that these plants are now two years old, mature enough to have high yields. Whatever the reason, our artichoke plants soared to five feet in height and have born beautiful blooms continually for the past month.The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is in the sunflower family. I wrote about my first year harvesting artichokes (here) but this year was spectacular and I’ve learned a few things.
First of all if you live inland, it may be too hot in the summers for this tender perennial. Our cool humid days along the coast is the perfect climate for artichokes, as witnessed by the huge fields along the coast of San Francisco and Monterey Counties. Buying the rootstock is the fastest way to get a crop but I had great luck starting my plants from seeds indoors, then transplanting them outside when they were a few inches high. Add plenty of organic matter and slow-release fertilizer to your soil and provide supplementary water. These tough plants will grow in vacant lots with little water, but their blooms will be woody. Not something you’d want to eat, so be sure your plants get a moderate amount of water.
Clean up the dead leaves that appear at the bottom of the plant as they turn yellow. Cut them off with loppers and not tearing it off so that you don’t pull out some of the developing shoots. According to some local growers, you can cut the plant down to the ground after it has finished blooming. Let it rest a few weeks, then begin watering again. You may get a nice fall crop. I’ll try that this year but my plants are still producing and I’ll let them do their thing first.
I haven’t had problems with aphids but I know that artichokes are susceptible to them. I do have a problem with earwigs that crawl into the scales of the bloom. I soak the harvested blooms in water with a tablespoon of salt for a half an hour before putting the blooms into boiling water to cook. I boil artichokes for about 45 minutes until tender in the center when a fork is inserted. The earwigs usually abandon ship in the first rinse so I’ve never encountered an earwig on my plate. Thank goodness!
We make an easy dipping sauce for our artichokes. This is enough for four large artichokes. I take about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and a sprinkle of salt and mix it and serve it in a small dipping bowl beside each dish. Half the fun of eating artichokes is dipping the thick end of each leaf into the dip and biting or scraping the flesh from the leaf. When you get to the heart, you need to remove the hairy center with a spoon. You are then rewarded with a large, sweet morsel of artichoke “meat”. Paradise!