Yum! Artichoke season has arrived early on the Far Side!

It is always a pleasure to find a ripe artichoke in the garden.  Organic artichokes aren’t available locally, and the non-organic ones are pretty expensive, shipped in from far away, and usually look pretty beaten up.

This is one of the reasons I grow food. Small carbon footprint, eaten the day it is picked, and I know exactly how it has been grown. Lots of fresh, local food is available and if it is more expensive than the mass-produced, sprayed, raised by underpaid workers in horrific conditions alternatives – you need to put your money where your values are.

Artichokes can be grown by seed and some varieties will produce crops the same year. The seeds need warmth to germinate – use a heat mat or a warm spot in your house – and plant out the seedlings when the second set of true leaves have emerged. Artichokes are very fussy about being transplanted, so start them singly in 4″or 6″ pots and be careful not to disturb their roots.  If they look sulky after planting, be patient. They usually recover. In our mild climate, artichokes will often overwinter. Talk to gardeners in your area to find out how artichokes fare locally. Some folks put old tires around their artichoke plants in the fall and cover them with straw for winter protection. Just be sure to remove all that in the spring after the risk of deep frost has passed.

These are big, beautiful plants. They need about 6 – 9 square feet each, with room between them to harvest the buds. Left unpicked, the buds will turn into thistle-like purple flowers. The first bud is called the terminal bud – pick it and side shoots will emerge, bearing more buds for you to enjoy. They should be picked before they start opening and the stems, if peeled, are pretty delicious too. Artichokes like heat, and water them well during the dry months of summer. You will be rewarded with a delicious addition to your dinner menu.