Commercial growers harvest artichokes using human labor and machines. Pickers use a special knife and toss artichokes into baskets that hold up to 80 pounds of produce, which are then emptied into sorting machines. Gardeners harvest home-grown artichokes individually, sometimes in staggered crops.
Commercial harvesters pack artichokes in the field to avoid extra handling. Pickers deposit their basket loads into specially made machines at the end of rows and quickly start picking the next row. The machines sort the artichokes and dump them onto a conveyor belt from which workers cull them. The artichokes are then packed in boxes, and the grower ships them directly from the field.
Home growers harvest artichokes by using shears or a sharp knife, leaving about 3 inches of stem on the cut end of the plant. In cold zones, growers treat these artichokes as annual plants and harvest them in the first year. In warmer climates, growers do not harvest first-year plants; instead, they cull buds in spring to allow root growth.
Home gardeners harvest mature artichokes by cutting the large center buds before they begin to open; smaller side buds are left to grow for subsequent crops in the same year. Artichokes that are not harvested may blossom into purple flowers resembling those of the thistle, a close cousin of the artichoke.