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How to grow organic Globe artichokes
by Frann Leach
Globe artichokes are actually flower buds
Family: Compositae (Group 4)
Globe artichokes are perennial plants attractive enough to be grown in an ornamental garden, 60-90cm (2-3') tall with a 1m (3') spread. They are closely related to thistles.
Globe artichokes require an open but not exposed position, with protection from strong winds. They prefer to grow on well drained but moisture retaining soil. Good crops will only be obtained on good, fertile soil. The roots must not be allowed to dry out in summer.
Recommended cultivarVert de Leon
Globe artichokes are normally raised from rooted suckers taken in spring, though they can also be raised from seed. Suckers (or offsets) are planted out between February and April. To take suckers, scrape the soil away from the base of healthy plants at least 3 years old and slice down between the offset and the parent plant with a sharp knife. Make sure the parent plant retains at least three shoots.
Dig the planting site thoroughly, incorporating plenty of well rotted manure or compost and apply a dressing of general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone or manure before planting.
Select offsets with as much root as possible. Plant firmly 5cm (2") deep, spacing plants 1m (3') each way. The tips of the leaves can be trimmed to reduce transpiration.
Artichokes can also be raised from seed sown indoors in February or outdoors in March. Plant out after hardening off if necessary. However, as cultivars do not usually come true from seed, seed raised plants are very variable, and it is impossible to tell which are good or bad until heads are produced. It is best to build up stock in following years by taking offsets from the best and throwing away the poor ones.
During the first season keep plants well weeded and watered. A single head is normally produced towards the end of the first season.
Artichokes grown on heavy soil are more susceptible to cold. In cold parts of the country, earth up the base of the plant in autumn and cover the crown with straw or bracken. In the South it is usually sufficient to leave the dead foliage to provide protection. Remove all coverings in mid April.
In the second season the plant throws up several flower shoots, each bearing one large artichoke at the tip and several smaller ones lower down, If large heads are required reduce shoots to 3 per plant, snapping off others at the base. The small buds can be removed when they reach 4cm (1½") diameter to encourage growth of the terminal bud.
Plants deteriorate after their third season, so it is best to replace about one third of the plants each year to maintain a steady supply of good quality artichokes.
Artichokes can be harvested at various stages, but are normally cut when the heads are plump and the scales are still soft and green, just before they start to open. Cut off the heads with 5-8cm (2-3") of stem, or at the base of the plant if there are no secondary buds. (For safety's sake, it's a good idea to snip off the spikes at the end of each scale.) Harvesting stimulates secondary shoots, which may give a second crop later in the season. This is encouraged if plants are given a comfrey liquid feed and watered after the primary heads are cut.
As mature plants crop in early summer, often in May and June, and young plants in late summer, from September on, a succession is ensured by having plants of various ages.
Grey mould may cause shrivelled flower heads with fluffy mould growth. Control with good hygiene; increase aeration if possible; avoid overcrowded, damp and shaded positions; remove any dead buds or flowers.
Lettuce Downy Mildew may also occur, causing yellow spots on leaves and downy mould beneath. Remove and destroy diseased leaves, and whole plants if necessary.