Monday, July 13, 2009

Perennial Vegetable Profile: Artichokes

Artichokes (globe artichokes) (Cynara scolymus) are a wonderful perennial vegetable and a real treat to eat. Marinated and cooked artichoke hearts are wonderful in salads, on pizza and more, and the base of the leaves are delicious eaten dipped in butter (or mayonnaise).

If you are fortunate enough to live in climate Zones 8 or 9, you can easily grown artichokes as a perennial vegetable in your garden. Just one well established plant can give you dozens of artichokes each year. If you live in a slightly colder region (Zone 6 or 7) you can try overwintering artichokes as well - if you protect them well from the cold using leaves and baskets they may be able to survive in perennials in your garden as well.

Colder regions can also grow them as annuals from transplants - which, given how delicious they are, are well worth the effort even if they will only survive for one growing season. You will need at least 100 frost-free days, however, in order to be able to grow them from transplants. If you are planning to grow Artichokes from transplants, start them indoors in February and expose them to some cold (but not freezing) weather in March to trick them into thinking they are entering into their second year of growth when they are transplanted outdoors in April.

Artichokes are heavy feeders, so add some compost to the hole when you are planting them, and also make sure they receive plenty of water during the growing season. Plants can quite large and should be at least four feet apart from each other when you plant them. If you are growing your artichokes as perennials, they will need to be divided every few years. You should have no problems finding friends and neighbors willing to take the extra divisions off your hands!

There are many varieties of artichokes to try. "Green Globe" is good for those attempting to overwinter them in colder regions. Those living in warmer areas might want to try some of the more interesting varieties, such as ‘Violetto’, an Italian variety that produces purple, slightly elongated heads.

For more information on perennial vegetable varieties, please return to the Perennial Vegetables Homepage.