The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.), usually just called “artichoke,” originated in the Mediterranean region. This herbaceous, thistle-like plant is produced for its immature, edible flower buds. The thorny green globe-shaped vegetable was first brought to the United States in the 1800s, where it was grown in Louisiana by French settlers and in California by Spanish immigrants.
Today, artichokes are sold fresh, frozen, or canned, often in the form of marinated artichoke hearts. When cooked without seasoning, the vegetable’s tender petals carry a subtle flavor often compared to the taste of fried egg white.
Italy is the world’s largest producer, followed by Egypt, Spain, and Peru. In the United States, commercial production is limited almost exclusively to California, where artichokes are the official state vegetable. Production ranges from Marin to Santa Barbara counties, with Monterey County topping volume. Castroville is called the Artichoke Capital of the state and hosts an annual festival. Washington and Oregon also grow artichokes, but in lesser quantities.
Types & Varieties
There are two primary varietal classifications of globe artichokes. The Italian type, or Green Globe (also known as Heirloom), is the most popular, and has a long, somewhat pointed bud. Globe artichokes should not be confused with the root crop known as the Jerusalem artichoke.
The second variety, the French type, has a short, thick, rounded bud with a flat end and is not as marketable due to lower yields and packing challenges.
California’s Green Globe artichokes are planted as a seasonal, slow-growing perennial and take nine months to mature from multishoot rootstock. Annual varieties are cultivated through transplants or direct seeding, have a single producing stalk, and thrive in the state’s coastal regions. Varieties include the Imperial Star, Desert Globe, and Big Heart.
Best suited for frost-free areas with mild, foggy summers, artichokes are a cool season crop. Plants flourish in temperatures ranging from 55°F at night to 75°F during the day.
To promote the formation of buds, new plants must be “vernalized” or chilled just after planting. Seedlings should be exposed to cool temperatures of 50°F or lower for 8 to 10 days to encourage bud formation.
Temperatures near freezing may cause buds to rupture, causing a white, blistered appearance. Although the damaged skin will eventually turn brown, the artichokes are still edible. Prolonged exposure to below-freezing temperatures (28° to 30°F) can completely destroy buds, causing them to turn black within hours.
Although plants may adapt to a variety of soil types (with the exception of heavy clay or light sand), they thrive in fertile, deep, and well-drained soil with ample irrigation.
In the presence of drainage issues, artichokes should be planted in raised beds. During bud development, plants require frequent watering as a lack of adequate moisture could result in inferior buds.
Harvesting artichokes is extremely labor-intensive. Field workers pick them by hand, cutting the ripe plants from stalks with a short knife. Artichokes are then placed into canastas, baskets carried on their backs.
When full, canastas can weigh from 80 to 100 pounds. Because artichokes are easily bruised, growers try to avoid overhandling and pack in the field rather than a shed. Typically, field workers bring their full baskets to large rigs parked at the end of each row and retrieve an empty basket.
Artichokes are sorted by size and packed in waxed cartons, hydrocooled, and moved to cold storage. Artichokes may be stored for one to two weeks at 32°F.
Pests & Diseases
Artichoke plume moth larvae are small, wormlike pests that feed on the floral buds of plants, making them unmarketable. Larvae may also feed on developing shoots, damaging the plant.
Aphids are pale green or yellow and damage leaves, causing them to curl and turn yellow, eventually stunting the plant. Secreted honeydew can result in sooty mold on leaves and interfere with growth.
Snails and slugs are a serious concern in winter and feed on all parts of the plant. They can infest an entire field and damage buds, causing them to turn black. Other pests of concern include spider mites and earworms.
Curly dwarf is a disease that causes curling and distortion of leaves, resulting in smaller, stunted plants and deformed buds. Infected plants can suffer reduced yields and eventually die.
Botrytis rot, also known as grey mold, is a greyish-brown fungus on parts of the plant previously damaged by insects or frost. It can quickly spread from injured leaves and flowers.
Bacterial crown rot causes stunted plants with wilted, brown leaves and rotted brown or black root tissues. Other diseases of note include powdery mildew, damping off, and verticillium wilt.
References: California Artichoke Advisory Board, University of California Agriculture &; Natural Resources, University of California Cooperative Extension, USDA, Virginia Cooperative Extension.
GRADES & GOOD ARRIVAL
Artichokes are divided into U.S. No. 1, U.S. No. 1 Long Stem, and U.S. No. 2 grades. Standards for the first two categories require artichokes to be properly trimmed, fairly well formed and not overdeveloped, fairly compact, free from decay and damage, and of uniform size.
U.S. No. 1 Long Stem requires smoothly cut stems of at least 8 inches in length. For U.S. No. 2, artichokes should not be overdeveloped or have badly spread globes, be free from decay and damage, and be of mostly uniform size.
Generally speaking, the percentage of defects shown on a timely government inspection certificate should not exceed the percentage of allowable defects, provided: (1) transportation conditions were normal; (2) the USDA or CFIA inspection was timely; and (3) the entire lot was inspected.
|U.S. Grade Standards||Days Since Shipment||% of Defects Allowed||Optimum Transit Temp. (F)|
There are no good arrival guidelines for this commodity specific to Canada; U.S. guidelines apply to shipments unless otherwise agreed by contract.
References: DRC, PACA, USDA.