The plant of the month this month is the green globe artichoke, not to be confused with the Jerusalem artichoke, which is also an excellent plant for the food forest, but quite different from globe artichokes.
I have fond memories of eating artichoke “leaves” (actually bracts) dipped in butter as a child. They taste great (even without butter) and have health benefits, which I’ll get to later in the article.
Growing Green Globe Artichokes in a Food Forest
Last year I started a few Green Globe Improved Artichokes from seed in February for the food forest, and I plan to do the same this year. It’s yet to be seen whether any of my deeply mulched artichoke plants will survive the winter in my zone 6b/7a climate, but I saved some of their seeds to sow again this year, and I’ll try a different variety, Tavor Artichoke as well.
Green globe artichokes take up a lot of space, reaching three to six feet in width and four to eight feet in height. For this reason, I planted my artichokes in the roomier food forest rather than in the raised bed garden. However, they received less water and nutrients there, so didn’t grow as vigorously as they might have.
Globe Artichoke Basics
Globe Artichoke is native to the Mediterranean region. It belongs to the family Asteraceae (aster family), the genus Cynara, and the species scolymus.
Artichoke is a perennial, hardy in Zones 7 – 10, and grows as an annual in colder climates. However, with winter protection, they can also grow as a perennial in zones 5 and 6.
Artichoke Ecosystem Services and Uses
Globe artichoke is an excellent addition to a food forest or perennial garden, providing the following ecosystem services.
- Unharvested flowers attract pollinators
- Produce large amounts of biomass
- Provides structure
- Ornamental interest
Artichoke Health Benefits
Beyond their role in an ecosystem, artichokes also offer health benefits for humans. Although artichokes aren’t as nutritious as some of the “superfoods” out there, they do contain some important nutrients.
- Edible flower bud (core and base of the bracts)
- High fiber food
- Nutrients include folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K
- Contains cynarin, which lowers cholesterol, improves digestive health, supports liver function, and inhibits taste receptors, making foods taste sweet.
- Contains flavonoids that improve liver health and function
- Contains antioxidants, including vitamin C and gallic acid
How to Grow Artichokes
Green Globe Artichoke Seeds
Growing globe artichokes from seed is easy if you have an indoor seed starting set up and can start the seeds ten to twelve weeks before your last frost date.
1. Starting Green Globe Artichokes From Seed
If you’re starting artichokes from seed, start them inside in late winter for planting out in early spring. Allow two to three months for the artichokes to grow big enough for transplanting. Sow your green globe artichoke seeds in three-inch pots to avoid needing to pot up before planting them outside.
2. Transplanting Globe Artichoke Seedlings
Transplant green globe artichoke seedlings outside three to four weeks before the last frost date in your area. Plant the seedlings two to four feet apart. If you’re in a colder climate, plants will be smaller at maturity and can be closer together. In warmer climates, plants need more space to grow. Especially in warmer climates, get them in the ground early enough to have some cold temperatures for better flower production.
Mix compost into the soil before planting, or apply compost as a top dressing. Apply a thick layer of mulch around the artichoke seedling to inhibit weeds, keep the soil cool, and conserve moisture.
3. Caring for Green Globe Artichoke Plants
Moist, well-drained soil is best for artichokes, but they cannot tolerate wet feet. Water them weekly or as needed, preferably with a drip system.
Artichokes are heavy feeders, so extra nitrogen from natural fertilizers such as compost tea or fish emulsion, applied throughout the season will promote vigorous growth. Apply your fertilizer of choice about once a month, starting one month after the transplant date.
Harvesting and Eating Artichokes
Artichoke buds are ready to harvest when they have reached full size (3″-5″ diameter) but before the bracts open. Leave some buds to flower for pollinators, enjoy their unique beauty, and save seeds.
Prepare artichokes by steaming them whole for at least an hour until they are soft. Or, pressure cook artichokes for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Only eat the tender base of the bracts and the heart. Avoid the choke, which is the inedible prickly part just above the heart. Eat the tender base of artichoke bracts by scraping them with your teeth, either plain or dipped in sauce or butter. Cut the choke away from the heart before eating the artichoke heart.
Breeding Potential of Globe Artichokes
In his book, Perennial Vegetables, Eric Toensmeier suggests that crossing globe artichokes with cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), which is a closely related leaf crop, might result in some interesting hybrids. He also suggests crossing both globe artichoke and cardoon with silver thistle (Carlina acaulis) for a hardier edible perennial. Silver thistle flower buds are a cold-hardy artichoke substitute, hardy down to zone 4.
Green globe artichoke is a unique edible plant that provides visual interest, structure, and diversity to your garden or food forest.
If you live in zone 7 or above, grow artichoke as a perennial to provide you with food for years to come. In cooler climates, you can grow artichoke as an annual or (in zones 5-6) provide it with winter protection to grow it as a perennial.
Happy artichoke growing!