Soil preparation: Artichokes need rich soil to thrive. Each spring, mix compost into your artichoke bed. You may also want to mix in a granulated organic fertilizer with a balanced Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium (NPK) level (follow package recommendations for application rates).
Planting: In mild climates, artichokes are grown as perennials, and they produce buds in the second growing season. To get artichoke buds the first year, gardeners in cooler climates must start with seeds and grow artichokes as annuals. The key is to trick the artichoke into behaving as if it has already made it through its first winter by exposing the young plants to a period of cool temperatures. That subterfuge is called vernalization. Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before the last frost. Place the seedlings in a cold frame about 6 weeks before the last frost (the temperature should remain below 50 during these 6 weeks, so open the lid of the cold frame as needed to keep the temperature cool). Plant the seedlings outside when all danger of frost has past. In warmer climates, plant divisions or set out 6 week old seedlings when nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees consistently.
Spacing: Plant two feet apart.
Watering: Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the season.
Fertilizing: Fertilize monthly with a liquid organic fertilizer.
Special hints: You can keep your artichokes from one season to the next. In USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 and warmer, protect the plants with a thick mulch of straw. In colder regions, try this smart idea: Dig the roots in fall, shake off the dirt, and hang them in onion bags in a cool, dry place such as a root cellar. In spring, these more-mature root systems kick in right away when replanted in the garden.
Keep an eye out for aphids, caterpillars, slugs and snails.
You can harvest your artichokes any time after the flower buds form until they start to open. Artichoke flavor is not dependent on maturity the way it is with a tomato. Slice the buds off at the base using a sharp knife.
Sure, it bears resemblance to a hand grenade, but the artichoke is actually quite loaded with nutritional ammunition: It's a rich source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and copper, with a healthful dose of vitamin B6, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, too. Pass the butter.
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