January is the perfect time to plant artichokes, a vegetable with a heart full of goodness. There are more than a dozen tasty and healthy reasons to grow them, and luckily for us, they grow really well in Portland if cut back and mulched in the winter. So, let us get into the healthy reasons first.
Health benefits of artichokes
Aside from being delicious and incredibly versatile, artichokes are low in fat, high in fiber, and packed with antioxidants. They are also loaded with vitamins and minerals like vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin K, Foliate, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Zinc. Phew! That’s a long list of goodness!
As with most honest to goodness home-grown veggies, the more you eat them, the more you benefit. Artichokes contain antioxidants that prevent cholesterol formation, and potassium that helps regulate blood pressure. Because of the antispasmodic properties of some of their compounds, they also help regulate gut bacteria and reduce inflammation, thus improving digestive health.
Artichokes can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, or sautéed. And after cooking them, the broth provides a healthy alternative for hot or iced tea, or a broth for soup. For the occasional decadent treat, they make a delicious artichoke dip.
There are about a dozen different varieties of artichokes and the ones that tend to do best in our plant hardiness zones are: Emerald, Green Globe, Imperial Star, and Violetto.
Emerald is a hybrid plant up to 5 feet tall that bears large, globe-shaped, glossy heads over long harvest period. Emerald artichokes tolerate both hot and cold conditions better than most artichoke varieties, and they are thornless, meaty, and very productive.
Green Globe is the more common variety of artichokes with sharp spines and globe shaped heads (also known as Vert Globe). There is an improved variety of this one where the plants are shorter and more productive.
Imperial Stars grow 3 to 4 feet tall and bear 3 to 8, 4-inch-diameter buds. They tolerate light but not hard frost.
Violetto artichokes are a purple Italian artichoke that is hardier than ‘Green Globe’. The plants produce deep purple sepals (leaf) and smallish, oval, slightly elongated chokes.
When to plant and how to grow them
If you are growing your artichokes from seed, start them indoors in late February or March. Use grow lights for about eight weeks, and then plant them outside after the last frost.
Plant them in soil that is slightly sandy and loose, that is well-amended, and in full sun. Artichokes are large plants and they need good air flow and circulation to help them stay healthy and pest free. They should be spaced at least four feet apart, and they must have good drainage to prevent the roots from rotting. During hot summer months however, the soil must be able to retain water long enough for the roots to replenish themselves. Take time to amend your soil before planting them as this will ensure they grow well in future years. Consider growing them in raised beds so that you can water them deeply and frequently. This will ensure the production of tender flower buds —that luxurious goodness we’re after.
Mulching regularly around the base is also important to prevent the soil from getting too hot and causing the plants to flower too quickly. Come fall, cut them back and mulch them with either leaves or straw, and uncover them in April. Artichokes seldom suffer from pest attacks. All they need is for you to keep slugs at bay during damp weather, and provide them with enough space for air to flow freely. You will be rewarded with healthy plants and the innumerable benefits they provide.
January is also a good time to plan your vegetable garden, build raised beds, and do some fruit tree pruning that will ensure productive and healthy trees. Give us a call or send us a message with your questions because we are here to help you build your confidence, and to support you as you take on and manage your Edible Garden.
In good health,