How to grow artichokes

It’s a ‘tops and bottoms’ tale when it comes to artichokes. With some varieties it’s the underground part that we eat, whereas the popular globe artichokes develop their edible parts well above the ground.

Jerusalem artichokes

The knobbly Jerusalem artichokes are in season right now. This sunflower relative grows to about two metres tall. In late summer the plants are topped with bright yellow blooms and, while all this obvious activity’s going on above ground, the knobbly ‘chokes’ are forming beneath the soil. In autumn the plants begin to die back and, when they’re completely brown, the harvest can begin. Use your hands to ‘bandicoot’ under the plant bases and pull out the tubers – they look a bit like knotted potatoes. They’re wonderful in winter soups and stews, or can be gently poached in a blend of milk and cream. Jerusalem artichokes can also be grated raw and served in a vinaigrette dressing.

Growing Jerusalem artichokes couldn’t be easier, and they’re one of the most drought tolerant of vegetables. Prepare soil by digging in organic matter, some Yates Blood & Bone and some added Sulphate of Potash. Buy tubers in packets at this time of year or look for them on sale in the fruit and veg section. Plant tubers before the end of winter and, because snails love the new growth, protect the young shoots as they emerge in spring with a sprinkling of Blitzem pellets.

Chinese artichokes

Chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis) are unusual relatives of the popular, felty-leafed perennial called lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). They require similar growing conditions to Jerusalem artichokes but produce low sprawling bushes to about 50cm high. After the leaves have died off in late autumn, the underground harvest can begin. Chinese artichokes form small, spiral-shaped tubers that have an attractive pearly-like sheen when first harvested. The tubers discolour if they’ve been out of the soil for any length of time, so they’re best eaten as soon as possible after harvest. Chinese artichokes don’t need peeling but it may be necessary to use a soft brush to gently scrub soil out of the spirals before cooking. With their unusual shape, sweet fresh flavour and crunchy texture they make an exciting addition to stir fries.

These oddities can be a little difficult to track down but they are advertised on a few internet sites. Watch them in cool, moist climates, however – they can take over the entire garden!

Globe artichokes (pictured)

Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are grown for the edible flower buds that sit on top of handsome, silver-leafed bushes. Fortunately the plants are attractive enough to be given a place in the ornamental garden and, if the flower buds do open into thistle-like blooms, there’s always the chance of another harvest either later this season or next (the plant can live for a number of years).

Globe artichokes do best if well fed and watered, so regular dressings of Dynamic Lifter pellets and good mulching will keep them producing. Steam, bake or boil the unopened buds. Young leaves can also be eaten.


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