It was John Lanchester who first made me think that artichokes would be easy to grow.  His book ‘A Debt to Pleasure’ contains an evocative chapter about artichokes gone feral in an English garden.  I have also seen huge fields of artichokes growing in Malta, which I thought might suit a garden such as ours with a tendency towards the mediterranean. 

And my suppositions were right.  Artichokes are satisfyingly easy to grow in our garden, providing interesting diversity for our diet. 

We have seven artichoke plants in an area of about 2 sqm.  I first grew them from seed in the greenhouse because their designated destination was occupied by broad beans at the time.  I transplanted them in mid summer and they matured surprisingly fast.  In fact we had our first crop in the same year.  They have gone on to be surprisingly prolific too.  I am not actually sure how often artichokes are meant to crop, but we have had five crops in three years and each crop usually yields 3-4 per plant.

I know that cardoons are happier than artichokes in cooler climates, which is presumably why they are more popular in the UK.  Although our artichokes are green all year around, they do lose leaves to the frost and snow and the leaves rot quickly if not removed.  This year, when the pond ice was thick enough to stand on, almost all their leaves turned black.  In previous years, with snow, they have only lost the older leaves.  Either way they regrew new leaves easily in the spring and started cropping only slightly later than usual this year.

With regard to pests, they seem to house large numbers of snails and the younger growth attracts black fly, but neither have really troubled our plants. 

Last year we missed harvesting a few chokes towards the end of the season and decided to let them flower instead.  They developed huge purple thistles that faded to a straw yellow.  Anyone growing cardoons in their borders could try artichokes instead and harvest a few early buds to eat. 

In other news, we have almost finished harvesting all the winter-sown vegetables – onions, garlic and broad beans.  Garlic was surprisingly small this year, despite planting in November.   At present we are eating plenty of salad, spinach, artichokes and soft fruit.  

Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.

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