How to grow alcochofas (globe artichokes)

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HERE IN Spain, there is not just one globe artichoke variety or even two; there are many. Of course, there are many: there’s a variety for every region and a season that extends from early spring to early summer.

Here, as in France and Greece, artichokes are often eaten young, tender and raw, sliced into salads. Or when they are the size of a walnut, they are briefly fried in olive oil. Then a little water goes in and they cook until just tender. These can be marinated, used in pasta sauces or enjoyed whole.

When artichokes are picked young, the stems are not hard or pithy and it’s possible to snap rather than cut them off the plant.
Even the stems can be eaten by peeling off the stringy outsides and eating the soft, crisp insides with salt, like you might celery. It’s bitter and nutty. You’ll love it or people will think you’re mad.

I hear a lot from people with rotting clumps. These are getting too wet over the winter and rotting off; they may also be too shaded. My plants are grown on heavy clay, but in full sun.
On wetter ground they need to be sheltered from the worst of the winter weather and on a slightly raised bed to aid drainage. I mulch them now to give them a boost of nutrients, lock in moisture and keep weeds down.

Sow globe artichoke seeds around April indoors, hardening off in May to plant out in June. If you are in the south or somewhere warm sow outside in April, but these plants won’t flower till next year. Or buy young plants from garden centres, which can go out from mid-May onwards.

Rare, heritage varieties tend to be easiest to source as seed; ‘Romanesco’ and ‘Violetta Chioggia’ from Chiltern Seeds are two fine purple-headed varieties. Artichokes need moisture over the summer. If the roots are deep, they will often find their own, but young plants will need watering in.

Artichokes do best in deep, rich fertile soil that is well-drained in a sunny position. A healthy plant will have a root system 90-120cm deep. Perennial crops are grown for five to 10 years, though they can last much longer. Commercially the plants are divided every four to five years to keep up vigour.

Some growers do something called stumping to their crops: cutting back hard to force the plant to produce a new flush of offshoots.

If done towards the end of August and provided you can keep the plants frost-free (either covering with fleece or low cloches) over the winter, you’ll get a much earlier crop the following year. It’s also a great method to get new offshoots from an old plant without having to divide the whole thing.

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