The Globe Artichoke put Castroville California on the map as the “Artichoke Center of the World”!
The Monterey Bay Globe artichoke is a perennial crop. Originally, it was grown in the Castroville, Watsonville, and Carmel areas outside the Salinas Valley. These growing areas are subject to marine influences from the Monterey Bay and are foggy and cool. The Globe artichoke is a cool-season crop that grows best at 75°F (day) and 55°F (night); and therefore, production areas hug the coast.
Today, annual artichokes are becoming more prevalent. These are less subject to certain pests and are tolerant to a wider range of growing conditions and have a longer growing period. Keep in mind, fresh annual artichokes are not flavorful as fresh Globe artichokes, which put Castroville on the map. Keep this in mind when you buy artichokes in the store. The Globe may cost a little more, but it is worth it!
History (Andersen, 2000)
- The Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a type of thistle in the Compositae flower family.
- Originally, it was from the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, North Africa and the Canary Islands.
- It appears that Arabs were the first to discover the nutritional value of artichokes.
- It was cultivated by the Italians in the 1500s.
- In 1577, an English garden author wrote: “The hartichoch is a kind of thisell, by the diligence of the gardener brought to be a good garden hearbe.”
- French settlers brought artichokes to Louisiana.
- In the 1700s, artichokes were introduced to the new world and into California by Spanish padres
- In the late 1800s, Tuscan immigrants reintroduced artichokes to California and started growing and selling them in the San Francisco and Half Moon Bay areas.
- In 1921, Andrew Molera owned land in the Moro Cojo near Moss Landing. He had been leasing land for sugar beet production to Claus Spreckels, but when the lease expired, it was not renewed because of low sugar beet prices. Therefore, Molera began searching for alternate crops and a friend from Half Moon Bay provided him with some shoots for about an acre. The site was located at the entrance to the mulligan HIll ranch on Molera Road.
- Shortly afterward, two partners, Del Chiaro and Egidio Maracci, were traveling to Carmel when they saw this acre of artichokes and learned that Molera was interested in leasing land to plant new crops. Del Chiaro and a cousin negotiated with Molera to lease 150 acres near where Monterey Dunes is today. The lease price was $25.00 and Molera would agree to construct a house and packing shed. Plants were obtained from Half Moon Bay. The Del Chiaros used gas engines to pump irrigation and processing water. This first commercial planting was successful.
- By 1923, other growers in the area were growing the Globe artichoke.
- These first artichokes were packed on the ranch in “coffins”, or large wooden boxes with 5’x2’1′ dimensions.
- Then, the coffins were hauled to Del Monte Junction, as Castroville was then called.
- In 1924, a group of Italian growers built a packing shed at Del Monte Junction, which was financed by A.P. Giannini’s Bank of Italy. These artichokes were marketed and sold under the “Ocean Mist” label.
Note: In 1913, the Southern Pacific Railroad changed the name of the Castroville rail stop to Del Monte Junction because it was close to the Del Monte Hotel. This railroad stop was popular with Bay area tourists who were en route to summer homes and camps in Pacific Grove. The name was changed back to Castroville in 1929 when regular rail passenger service between Castroville and Pacific Grower was replaced by bus service. (Whaley)
- Success encouraged over-production, and in 1925, the market collapsed. It recovered somewhat and by 1927, there were about 50 growers producing the Globe artichoke in the Monterey Bay area on about 12,000 acres.
- The main Globe artichoke market was the Italian barrios in New York City.
- About this time, shipping was switched to smaller wooden boxes that were much easier to handle.
- Then, the Great Depression hit in 1929 creating a new set of problems.
- Interestingly, the early years of the artichoke were plagued with theft in the fields, and racketeering at the point of sale. Field theft reached a peak during Prohibition (the late 1920s) as bootleggers supplemented their alcohol sales with pilfered artichokes. In some cases, the theft was as great as 10% of yields. Theft continues to be a problem today.
- Racketeering ended in the 1930s when the Mayor of New York City prohibited the sale of artichokes throughoutt the City until there was free and orderly wholesale merchandising.
- In 1940, a cannery was built in Castroville by Grecco and Conti and artichokes were “put up” under the “Pony’ label. That cannery burned. Another was built and then closed. In 1954, Artichoke Industries, Inc. began to pack artichoke hearts under the (now well-known) “Caria Mia” label.
- There are about 6,451 acres in production near Castroville, which claims to be the “Artichoke Center of the World”. However, theft continues to be a problem today. Other areas such as the Salinas Valley and “the desert” grow annual artichokes. There are also Globe artichokes grown in Lompoc and other areas of the coast.
Production Information (Smith)
- Perennial Production of Globe artichokes
- Propagation involves the division of the plant crown.
- Rooted sections of crowns (“stumps”) are hand-planted in a grid in trenches 4-6″ deep with 3-3.5′ in-row spacing and 9-10′ between rows.
- Peak production is March to April
- After harvest, crop plants are mowed and then cut back to ground level to encourage regrowth.
- Plants are “stumped“, which involves removing the old bearing stalks by chopping out the stalk just below the ground using a hand axe or stalk knife. This is believed to increase yield.
- Fields are replanted every 5-10 years.
- Production of Annual artichokes
- Annuals are transplanted from November to June for harvest from April to October. (Note: how much longer this harvest period is than for the perennial Globe artichoke.)
- Annuals are planted in a single row on 72-80″ beds with an in-row spacing of 30″.
- Coastal growing conditions are the “ideal” and extend the flowering period, and improve the quality of the edible bud.
- Artichokes have a fairly deep rooting system of 3-4 feet for a cool season vegetable.
- They prefer deep, fertile, well-drained soils but sandy soils with excessive drainage are avoided because artichokes require adequate soil moisture throughout the season.
- Artichokes are fairly salt tolerant but might experience yield reductions if the soil salinity increases about 1 dS/m.
- During the summer, sprinkler-irrigated plats are watered at 2- to 3-week intervals. Drip-irrigated crops are irrigated at about a 1-week interval.
- About 18- 24 acre Inches per acre are applied for Globe artichokes for the entire crop per year. Annual artichokes use a little more water, about 20-24 inches. (Note: 12 acre-inches of water = 27,154.28 gallons.).
- Drip irrigation may reduce water use by as much as 25%.
- Crops require 100-200 pounds of Nitrogen per season. Growers have transitioned from making fall applications of nitrogen because of leaching hazards. They can apply about 30 lbs of Nitrogen fertilizer preplant. When the crop is under drip-irrigation, the growers are able to “spoon feed” small amounts of Nitrogen, as necessary.
Books and References
Anderson, Burton. The Salinas Valley: A History of America’s Salad Bowl. Monterey Historical Society. 2000.
Monterey County 2017 Crop Report. Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showdocument?id=65737
Sample Cost to Establish and Produce Artichokes, Imperial County, 2004, at the UC Davis Agriculture and Resource Economics Web site.
Smith, Richard, et al. Artichoke Production in California. University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Publication 7221. https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/7221.pdf
Whaley, Derek. Santa Cruz Trains, Railroads of the Monterey Bay Area. http://www.santacruztrains.com/2015/04/castroville-del-monte-junction.html