Artichokes in Illinois – Yes!
Normally thought of as a crop grown in places such as Castroville, California (Artichoke Capitol of the World) the artichoke is a crop that is found on a commercial scale in zone 8 climates. In places such as the California Central Coast two crops a year can be grown and the artichoke is a perennial. That does not mean that it cannot be grown in Illinois. Here it is an annual that can be grown from transplants and in fact, it has been grown as far north as Maine. As long as you have 90 to 100 frost free days you can successfully grow an artichoke.
The artichoke, spcifically the globe artichoke, is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. The edible matter is buds that form within the flower heads before the flowers come into bloom. After the flower blooms, the buds change to something that is very coarse and barely edible. The uncultivated or wild variety of the species is called a cardoon. It is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region.
Artichokes prefer a sunny location and fertile, well drained soils. It helps to incorporate organic matter into the soil before planting. Had I done a little homework before I planted my plants I may have avoided a potential error. Artichoke plants can grow up to 6 feet across and 3 to 4 feet high. This news came to me after I had already planted mine so the examples in the picture are probably too close together. I also planted my plants in my hoophouse because I had assumed that the artichoke growing season would be far longer that Illinois could offer. Oh well, live and learn!
Now that I have gotten around to actually informing myself on artichoke cultivation, I found that the University of California, Davis had plenty of information. They put out a good bulletin called Growing Artichokes. The authors are Harwood Hall, Farm Advisor, Susan Wada, Technician, and Ronald E. Voss, Extension Vegetable Specialist. According to the bulletin:
“The artichoke does best in frost-free areas having cool, foggy summers. Freezing temperatures kill the buds, and hot, dry conditions destroy their tenderness.”
My hoophouse, I am afraid, is possibly going to be too hot to get the best artichokes.
The bulletin also says that among the pests that affect the artichoke are slugs, snails, and the artichoke plume moth. Several diseases also affect it like curly dwarf and botrytis disease. I suspect that the artichoke plume moth and the diseases that affect artichokes are very uncommon in Illinois. But then again, I possibly have assumed too much already and I will stop here!
The University of California, Davis bulletin can be found at: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/artichoke_GrowingArtichokes.pdf