If you are looking for unusual and eye catching crops then look no further than cardoon!
Cardoon is sometimes called an artichoke-thistle due to it’s close likeness. Grown as an annual this tender perennial can be a center-piece of a garden growing to 1.2m (4 feet) in height with a 60cm (2 feet) spread. From sowing to harvest expect a 120-150 day wait.
You are harvesting the tender stems, but you will need to blanch them to keep them as tender as possible.
How To Grow Cardoon From Seed
Growing cardoon from seed is pretty straight forward and once established you can overwinter as they are a tender perennial and will need a good mulch for protection.
Starting Cardoon Indoors
This is by far the easiest way to grow cardoon, due to the long growing period you can sow indoors in the UK and climates which don’t have 3-4 months of solid sunshine.
Sow seeds in biodegradable pots to avoid transplanting and harming the root system. Sow cardoon 6-8 weeks before the fear of frost has passed. Pop seeds 1/4 inch into the compost and water well. Keep at a constant temperature of 75F or 24C for improved germination rates. Seedlings appear around 14 days from sowing. Transplant out to a well prepared bed. Use well rotted manure to add nutrition and drainage to a site. Full sun to partial shade is fine for cardoons. Space each plant 60cm (2 feet) apart and cover the gaps with straw initially to suppress weeds and help retain water. Water only when the soil is dry and feed with a light liquid fertilizer occasionally.
Sowing Cardoon Direct
Sowing direct can work in areas with long periods of sunshine. You may find that your germination rate is affected by surprise dips in temperature though.
Sow cardoon seeds 1/4 inch deep after the fear of frost has passed. Thin young seedlings to 60cm (2feet) apart and keep your rows around twice this spread. make sure to keep the area weed free and a straw mulch works well for this. Water when the soil becomes dry and feed with a liquid fertilizer only occasionally during the main growing period.
120-150 days later your cardoon will be ready to harvest, or you can leave it to flower and chop back in Winter ready to protect with a mulch.
How To Blanch & Harvest Cardoon
Cardoon stems are what we are harvesting and eating, unlike artichokes where we may wish to eat the flowers as well. They become tough and inedible if you do not blanch them.
To blanch cardoon you must gather up the leaves and, using twine hold them loosely in a top bunch, as if you are gathering them to point to the sky. Then use a hessian sack or burlap to cover the base. This prevents the sun from hitting them and turning them green/grey. All that should be exposed is the very top of the leaves, making a spikey pineapple looking teepee. Do this 3 – 4 weeks before harvesting. Usually your cardoon will be only about 1m high at this point. Avoid waiting until it is flowering as you will get sugars being diverted tot eh flower head and not the stems. Meaning you have a bitter crop.
You can leave your cardoon so that every other one is for flowering and feeding the bees and other essential pollinators.
When you are ready to harvest your cardoon release the hessian sack and cut back to the about a few inches from the base and strip leaves from the stem. They make a great green manure by the way! Either leave the discarded grey/green foliage where it falls of pop on to a new bed that needs overwintering.
What To Do With Cardoon – Recipes & Uses
This is the funny part as many gardeners will grow unusual or more heritage type of crops and not really have a lot of recipes for their use. There are a lot of health reasons to eat cardoons but also the flavor is like a cross between celery and artichokes.
- Honey Cardoons With Pine Nuts And Thyme is a very nice starter or even side dish. You will need to prepare your cardoons first and you do this in much the same way as you would celery. Cutting each end to then peel back the twine like strong along each ridge. That is the woody part and to be avoided. You will need to then cut into lengths about 3-4 inches long and boil.
- Roman Style Fried Cardoons is the ultimate in finger food. Fried and covered in cheese the health benefits of cardoons are still very much present, but you will love this classic recipe and it is a real crowd pleaser. Perfect to be eaten around a camp fire.
- Cardoons are a bit of a staple in Italian cuisine and this Cardoons Cardi Gratinati is the perfect way to celebrate it’s heritage. A bit of a luxury dish with real heart to it. Perfect as a main or side dish in small portions.
- A lovely fresh soup can be made from cardoons called a Zuppa Di Cardi and it is the perfect bowl of the Mediterranean. Clean, fresh and filled with subtle flavors it will be the perfect winter warmer. Serve with a warm buttered roll for the ultimate lunch time treat.
You can be as creative in the kitchen as you like and include cardoon anywhere that would normally require cooked celery.
Cardoon Vs Artichokes
Both cardoon and artichoke are in the Cynara genus. Cardoon being cynara cardunculus and artichokes cynara scolymus. The artichoke flowers head is edible as a lovely fleshy dish. You can eat cardoon stems, not the flowerhead, the taste is similar to artichoke with a slight bitterness.
We hope you have enjoyed and felt inspired by our how to guide. If you have any questions or recipe suggestions pop them below for everyone to follow! Many thanks