The soil must be well-drained to grow artichokes; it should be moist in the summer but dry in the winter. They require a sunny position for the unopened flower heads have more flavour when they are grown in full sun. A sheltered position is also required as the flower stems grow tall and are easily blown over.
In the autumn dig the ground over to a spade’s depth, incorporating manure and some well-rotted compost at the rate of a bucketful to the sq. yd. then leave the ground rough to overwinter. Fork the ground level in spring, adding fish manure at a rate of 3 oz. (76mm) to the sq. yd. This dressing should be repeated each year in March or early April.
The plants should be purchased from a reliable nurseryman; you can later increase your stock plants by severing the side growths or suckers, which will later develop at the base of each plant. These should be cut from the parent plant when they are about 9 in. (228mm) long, taking care that there is a part of the old plant’s root at base. Plant the new shoots in April in rows 3 ft (90cm) apart, allowing 3 ft. (90cm) between the plants.
If you garden in the North then you should take your suckers during November and pot them up individually into 6 in. (152mm) pots, protect them from frost until the following May when they can be re-planted into the bed.
Keep down the weeds, gently hoeing between the plants reducing the surrounding soil to a fine dust to about ½ in (12mm) layer of loose soil over the surface of the ground. If the artichokes are not growing sturdily by June, top dress with dried blood to promote better growth. When autumn arrives the plants should be given some protection against the oncoming winter frosts.
Straw is excellent for this purpose and it should be laid over each plant and a net drawn over the top and secured will keep the straw in place. If the straw becomes too wet, it should be replaced at intervals throughout the winter.
Artichoke plants can last for as long as 12 years or more, though it is good practise to replace the plants after 5 or 6 years to continue vitality and vigour in your stock.
The flower heads are not produced the first year, in the early summer of the second year, the large thistle-like heads which develop should be cut just before they open. Cut the main head, known as the king head, first. Secondary growths will then develop, each of which will produce a tender flower head. These are cut when they are the size of a large hen’s egg. For better flavour, cut no more than 1 hour before you intend to cook them.