The artichoke, cynara cardunculus var. scolymus, is a perennial rhizomatous herbaceous plant; this plant produces has an autumnal and winter development, therefore as soon as the summer temperatures become mild and humid from the underground rhizome sprout the first shoots, which will produce large greyish, finely engraved, arched leaves, inserted on a thick erect, ribbed stem and fibrous, herbaceous, of the same color as the foliage; during the winter months at the apex of the stems large flower heads are prepared, enclosed in thick bracts, which will bloom in late winter. Some varieties of artichoke are re-flowering, so they prepare some repeating blooms; what is consumed of the artichoke are the flower heads, before the flower begins to develop to bloom. After flowering, when spring warmth arrives, the plant begins to dry out, and during the summer all the aerial part will be completely dry; only at the end of summer, with the arrival of the rains, will the artichokes begin to sprout again.
The artichoke is an easy vegetable to grow, especially if our soil and climate allow it. Good to eat and beautiful to look at, thanks to its magnificent purple flowers, it certainly must not be lacking in a vegetable garden.
Characteristics and history of the artichoke
The artichoke (Cynaria scolymus) is a herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It can reach a height of 1.5 m and develops mainly in width, given that it is equipped with a rhizomatous root system and several stems. The leaves, up to 150 cm long, differ greatly. The basal ones are finely engraved, while those along the stems are full lanceolate. The color ranges from glossy green to tomentose green tending to gray-glaucous (depending also on the variety).
The flower heads (of which we eat when they are still closed) include different flowers in a glass. The bristles, which are blue-violet in color, are very elegant.
Probably the cultivation of the artichoke was already widespread in southern Italy during the Roman Empire. The species was also known by the Greeks: it was collected and used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
The crop spread throughout our peninsula during the Renaissance and from Tuscany, thanks to Caterina de 'Medici, it also arrived in France and from there to the rest of Europe and the world. Currently, our country is one of the major producers (the places of election are Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia), although cultivation has also spread to Spain, California and Peru.
As said before these plants are perennial, so in the garden we will have to use an area for artichokes that we will dedicate only to it for some years. Artichokes also propagate by seed, but buds or basal shoots are more easily taken from the rhizomes; the portions of rhizome with sprouts are called ovules, and are taken at the end of summer; the basal suckers are called carducci, and are taken constantly during the development of the plant, to avoid that they subtract nutritive elements from the main plant that we are growing. Whether it is a crop from ovules or carducci, the new artichokes are prepared between late winter and late spring; during the first winter we will not have an interesting production, but we will begin to collect artichokes starting from the second or third year of the plant. The artichokes are prepared in a sunny area of the garden, a single plant can grow up to 120-150 cm in diameter, so it is good to remember to place the rhizomes quite apart from each other, in a good rich soil, loose and well drained.
The "natural" cultivation takes place leaving the plants dry during the period of vegetative rest, from May until September, and sporadically watering them during the winter, but only if rainfall is scarce. Forced crops, on the other hand, occur in abundant watering of the plants already in summer, making sure that they begin to sprout already in July-August: in this way we will have the first artichokes in September or October.
THE ARTICHOKE IN BRIEF
|Type of plant||Perennial herbaceous|
|Height||Up to 150 cm|
|Water needs||Medium high|
|Multiplication||Picking rhizomes / seeding|
|Resistance to cold||Up to -5 ° C / -10 ° C|
|Exposure||Full sun / South-South-West|
|Ground||Rich, acidic or clayey, well drained|
|Spacing between rows||100-120 cm depending on the vigor|
|Spacing in the row||75-100 cm depending on the vigor|
THE ARTICHOKE CALENDAR
|Planting of purchased seedlings||April May|
|Carducci planting||February to April / September-October|
|Sowing in a cold greenhouse||February-March / October-November|
|Carducci collection||February to April / September-October|
|Vegetable collection||February-June (Center-North) / October-May (South and Islands)|