Grow Your Own Artichokes

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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Artichoke seedlings on a light shelf.

Yes, you can grow your own artichokes! If you have a growing season of 90 warm days, you can grow ‘Imperial Star’; ‘Emerald’ needs 100 days at least. Spring-planted artichokes will be ready for harvest in the fall. Overwintered perennial and fall-planted artichokes will be ready to cut in spring.

The first years I planted artichoke seeds, I had very low germination but still got a nice amount of seedlings to plant. Then, last year, I wanted to experiment with the Italian timing, which is to start seeds in late summer, plant out in the fall to produce a spring crop. I got nearly perfect germination.

In summer, I keep my house at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, which is actually the ideal germination temperature for artichokes. During winter, the house is only 67 degrees and, when a heat mat is used, it’s just too warm for them (great for tomatoes and peppers, but too hot for artichokes).

So, your first step will be to find a place in your home that’s about 76 degrees. Come to find, the top of the enclosed refrigerator is just perfect. Just be sure you check every morning first thing and move any that have just germinated to your light shelf. You can also try putting another empty flat under them, upside down, raising them off the heat mat.

Artichoke Varieties to Try

Be sure to get high quality seeds! The best I have found are the ‘Emerald’ variety from NESeed, and I have also grown very nice ‘Romanesco’ variety from Gourmet International.

For Northern gardens, the ‘Imperial Star’ variety can be grown as an annual and those are available from Fedco, and most other seed houses.

Here in Zone 7b, many artichoke plants will winter over. They die back after a couple freezes, or you can cut them back, and then in the first warm days, or after a good rain, they pop back up and survive a few years, producing more stems and more chokes every year.

Overwintered 2 year artichoke plants in a clover cover crop.

How to Transfer Artichoke Seedlings

Artichoke seedlings have large roots, so they don’t like transplanting. To avoid this shock, I use Jiffy® pellets to start the seeds and, when the roots come through, I bump them into 3-inch Jiffy® pots. By the time a few roots come through the pots, my plants are ready to set out in the garden. The Jiffys are now OMRI-approved but you may like Cowpots® even more.

Now, figure out your planting schedule. The seeds take about a week to germinate, but a couple more may pop up in 10-12 days. The seedlings need about 8 to 10 weeks to develop and then they must be vernalized, especially if you need to grow them as annuals.

How to Vernalize Seedlings

Vernalizing means the plants must be placed where they will have a couple weeks of very cool temperatures, around 40 degrees, but not freezing and out of the wind. For this, I set the plant flats on a bench in an unheated greenhouse with the door and window left open.

When a hard freeze was forecast, I dropped a piece of row cover over them and they were just fine. After 3 weeks of warm sun, cool rainy days and cool to cold nights, the plants were ready to set out. Setting plants out in fall also accomplishes this as the plants winter over.

Artichokes seem to like the fish emulsion fertilizer. I began feeding them as seedlings when I put the pellets into the Jiffy pots. Then again when they moved to the greenhouse and again after 2 weeks in the greenhouse. They were watered in with a good amount of fish emulsion solution.

Mature artichokes

Growing Tips

Artichokes are big plants! I set them 3 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart. Keep them fed during the growing season as you watch the plants grow to a healthy 36 inches tall. They will quickly outgrow weeds and become quite easy to maintain.

If you are growing as an annual, as September approaches, be watching down in the center of the plants. You’ll see a tiny bud down there that will quickly rise on its stem and become an artichoke — don’t be greedy, now.

Your artichokes will probably not become 5-inch giants. As soon as you think the petals are opening even a little, with chokes about 3 inches, start cutting. Cut the stems above the next leaf and you will probably then see side shoots of baby artichokes forming.If you miss cutting an artichoke, you will see it bloom into a vibrant, violet-colored flower. The choke of the artichoke becomes the gorgeous petals; they look prickly, but are actually very soft and silky. If this happens, be careful where you put your fingers and nose!  The heart of the artichoke flower has a lot of nectar and will be buzzing with bees!

A few years ago, we let a few go and Laurie Bostic took this picture. Enjoy!

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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