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Globe Artichoke – Unlikely January Star
The Globe Artichoke is an unusual star for January but during the last few days, as temperatures have dipped, the artichoke patch has been a flurry as a variety of garden birds have pulled the chokes apart to reach the tasty oil rich seeds. Another bonus is that Globe Artichokes retain some three dimensional interest in a vegetable plot into winter, long after the bean poles have been put away, as well as being stunning architectural beauties when dusted with snow or frost. We traditionally leave the old growth in the artichoke patch for the birds and clear it in late spring but this year I have also left two other beds to seed/stand over winter – one of Red Frills Mustard and one of Red Amaranth. As with the artichokes, both beds have been busy with birds pecking at the seeds with the Red Amaranth in particular being covered in finches and tits. My reasons weren’t completely altruistic however. Primarily I wanted to see how early in the year any dropped seeds would germinate and if they would provide me with an early crop before burning the over winter growth off. Of course I wasn’t allowing for this mild winter and the red frills germinated in early December and has subsequently been mowed by slugs and the Red Amaranth has germinated this week and I suspect will fall foul of the frosts of the last few nights but we will see. Back to the Globe Artichokes…. the new growth is already pushing lushly through the soil and making promises of a summer feast of roasted ‘chokes on wood fired pizzas, or more traditionally served boiled whole with hollandaise sauce or salty tarragon butter. Artichokes are the epitomy of a great natural ‘slow’ food requiring getting stuck in with hands; oily fingers; warm bread to mop – the whole tactile joy of eating which seems too time consuming to be anything other than a luxury now. They are also brilliant for the liver, which is a bonus if they are washed down with a couple of glasses of chilled white wine! Artichoke plants attract ladybirds in profusion, drawn to aphids that tend to accumulate at the fleshy base of the ‘chokes.We find that the ladybirds feed, breed and overwinter hidden in the remaining heads or in the hollow stems and the plants are therefore a really valuable addition to an organic plot. In late summer the green sphere split open to reveal purple flowers which become so laden with nectar and pollen that they literally vibrate with the buzzing of bees and other insects which in another fabulous bonus for an organic grower. So, Globe Artichokes are in reality a year round star. They feed us, pollinating and predatory insects and overwintering birds as well as providing year round beauty and structure in the garden. A perfect plant.