February 04, 2020
Winter is artichoke’s season for us. With their strong flavour and vibrant colour, they have always conquered the Mediterranean tables. For years a good part of our production has been dedicated to this precious plant. At our farm, in fact, we grow the well-known Albenga spiny artichoke, a rather tasty native variety.
In this article we will see together which are the necessary steps related to the cultivation of artichokes.
The artichoke is a typically Mediterranean plant, whose major production in Italy is in Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. In Liguria it is certainly minor, but it is still one of the flagships of local agricultural cultivation, together with that of the Zucchine trombette, the tomato Cuor di Bue , and the violet Asparagus. In particular, in our region the cultivation of this plant is concentrated in the area of Savona and Imperia, in the variant known as "Carciofo spinoso d'Albenga".
Unlike basil, we grow our artichokes in open field. We have about 1650 plants distributed on two different strips: the first adjacent to the farm and the other 1.5 km away.
Despite the fact that the artichoke is a multi-year plant - that is, it is able to last several years in the same soil - our artichokes are renewed every year. This allows us to increase the productivity of the plants, which are able to produce up to 7 artichokes each. Each of these can weigh between 150 and 400 grams, while the height of plants vary from 1.2 to 1.3 metres. At the end of the stem we find the typical flower head formed by leaves, or bracts, of an intense green and violet colour. Finally, the yellowish thorns at their ends make these artichokes unmistakable.
The artichoke plant adapts easily to mild climates and prefers flat and hilly terrain, like ours. It also bears low temperatures, provided temperature doesn’t go below zero, otherwise their growth is drastically compromised.
We plant our artichokes in mid-August, in small, spherical hollows in the ground, about 25 centimetres deep and about 50 centimetres far from each other. Once laid on the ground, we proceed with the positioning of a drip irrigation system, which will provide automatic water supply. This happens especially during the driest periods, when the rains are not sufficient to satisfy our seedlings.
The first plants are harvested by hand before Christmas, and this is done until late spring. The artichokes are then placed in special boxes for sale. Unlike our basil and tomatoes “cuor di bue”, the reference market is mainly the local one, because the quantities, although variable, do not allow to meet the needs of large distribution.
On the subject of crop rotation, on the other hand, artichokes precede the cultivation of the Zucchina trombetta. The organic residues produced by the artichoke, in fact, are able to increase the fertility of the soil on which they have been planted over the years, proving particularly valuable for our zucchini.
This variety is easily distinguished from other Italian varieties by the conical shape of the flower head and the outer leaves with their iridescent colours that recall the vibrant palette of intense green and purple. The taste is delicate, not excessively bitter, and it is excellent if eaten raw, with a little oil and lemon.
Needless to mention the nutritional properties, which are many: a concentrate of vitamins and minerals. Calcium, potassium and iron to name just a few.
We like to taste it, even cooked, in the recipes we are most fond of: risotto and the frisceu. But above all we like to watch their kegs peep out of our wraps at sunset. When even the effort of growing our artichokes is sublimated by their scent.