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Guide to Artichokes

Photo: Kang Kim
Fresh artichokes have a nutty flavor and firm, meaty texture that surpasses their jarred counterparts. The extra prep is worth it.

SEASON: Artichokes peak in spring and produce a second crop in fall.

CHOOSING: Whether you are buying artichokes or deciding when to cut them from your plants, the guidelines are the same: Select tight buds. Letting a bud remain on the plant to get bigger means it will not be as tender.

STORING: Store fresh artichokes in a produce bag in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.

GROWING: The ideal climate for perennial artichokes is coastal California, where winter is gentle and summer mornings are foggy and cool. In gardens where winters are harsh, the plants are spring-planted annuals, producing a single late-summer harvest. In all cases, the season lasts for weeks.

Artichokes are big, beautiful plants, growing about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

Select a place in full sun, unless you live in a hot climate, where a little afternoon shade is helpful. Good, rich garden soil will give the best results. Depending on the variety, artichokes need four to six months to produce buds. If your season is short, start seeds indoors in winter, and move them outside after the last frost.

Use mulch in summer to keep the roots cool and moist. Gardeners in areas that have hard freezes should cut the plant back, mulch heavily for the winter, and hope for the best, as it is more likely to be an annual in that climate.

When an artichoke plant blooms, the first bud is the biggest, followed by secondary buds that branch from the flower stalk. After all the buds have been cut from a stalk, remove the stalk at its base. New shoots will emerge from the roots to make next season’s crown. Cut artichokes 1 to 1 1⁄2 inches below the bud. For best quality, eat immediately.