The last of my series of posts discussing the different types of gourmet garlic will explore the Artichoke variety. Artichokes are a family of very large, very prolific softneck garlic. Due in large part to their size, and thus high yield, Artichoke strains such as ‘California Early’ are grown on a large scale for commercial processing into products such as garlic powders, salts, and as the garlic component in many packaged foods. Less commercial cultivars are also available, with popular names including ‘Inchelium Red’, ‘Lorz Italian’, and ‘Susanville’. Like Silverskins, Artichokes are also commonly used in garlic braids.
Artichoke garlics are attractive to commercial growers not only due to their size, but also because they are relatively easy to grow. They tend to thrive in more southerly climates due to the comparatively mild winters, but we also get good results up here in the lower half of Canada. Growers in more northerly regions can still grow Artichokes fairly easily, but may find that the overall bulb size is somewhat diminished and that the plants have a tendency to bolt.
Bolting under stress very rarely produces an actual scape, but may produce a small cluster of large bulbils within a pseudo stalk, up to a few inches above the bulb itself. Otherwise, growing Artichokes reduces some of the intense labor associated with growing garlic, since there are no scapes requiring removal.
Artichoke cultivars are early-maturing, the stocky plants generally ready to harvest soon after Asiatic varieties. The regular rules of harvest apply, with the bulbs dug when there are approximately five wide yellow-green leaves left. It is worth keeping an eye on their progress close to harvest, however, as in some cases the large size of the bulbs will cause the skins to separate, exposing the cloves. Since the clove skins remain intact, this separation is fine if the bulbs are grown for your own consumption, but if you are growing them with retail in mind, you will get some rather unsightly bulbs that are best saved for processing or seed.
Cultivars of the Artichoke variety produce large, slightly flattened and lumpy bulbs. The bulb skins are thick, coarse and white, with varying degrees of purple marbling. The bulbs produce multiple layers of cloves, which range in shape from fat and blocky on the outer layer, to tall and thin in the innermost layers. It is worth mentioning that when planting Artichokes varieties, unless you are trying to increase stock levels, consider avoiding planting the small inner cloves to keep the overall size of the bulbs at harvest large. Clove numbers tend to average 12-20 per bulb and have very pale to light tan skins, often with red or purple tones.
Compared to hardneck types, many people find the taste of Artichoke garlics rather tame. The cultivars themselves vary in heat and richness, from the sweet and mild to the spicy and rich. The milder cultivars such as ‘Susanville’ tend to be enjoyed by those who prefer a more delicate garlic taste if, for example, the garlic is being consumed raw for health benefits, while hotter ones like ‘Lorz Italian’ are a popular choice for sauces. All Artichoke cultivars make excellent roasted garlic. They also tend to be quite long-storing, lasting from six to nine months when stored correctly, making them worthwhile addition to any garden.
In my next series of posts, I’ll be examining the different diseases that can affect garlic!