|Artichoke seed must be sown early, and mid to late January sowings result in plants large enough to|
endure the neccessary cold 'vernalization' temperatures required for 2 weeks in April, which is a trick that
ensures a good crop in the home garden.
Raising Artichokes from SeedThe lure of home grown artichokes drives many to try growing their own. The truth is, artichokes are not an easy crop, they take up alot of room and the results are usually poor in most parts of the world. Those large, commercially grown green globe artichokes that many of us are familar are primarily grown in a coastal microclimate, the cool, Monterey coast of California for instance, just south of San Francisco, where most of our commercial artichokes come from.
You've undoubtedly seen artichoke seed for sale in seed catalogs, and I think many are curious about possibly growing a few, especially since they start with the letter 'A', I think I get more mail about How To Grow Artichokes than any other vegetable. Home grown plants can be rewarding, but one must follow directions strictly, as temperature is key throughout their life. There are times when artichokes want to be warm, and there are times when they want to be cold, and if you mess those periods up, you will just end up with nice, prickly thistle plants and never see a flower bud. Using some of the newer seed-raised varieties that have come into the market in the past decade or two. Don't be discouraged, you can grow them -just follow these directions precisely, and as late January and early February (right now - go order them!) is the time to start, here I share how I grow mine.
|RootTrainer pots are great for tap-rooted plants like artichokes|
Choosing the right varietyArtichokes are true perennials, even the ones sold as 'New Annual Forms' are, but the difference between named varieties is important if you live in most of the northern US. Forget about growing the so-called heirloom varieties (the violet ones such as Purple of Romania, Violetta Precoce or the green variety Green Globe) as they are all warm weather varieties, and they will not perform well in northern gardens. You will need to seek out varieties that can be raised from early sown seed, and that will form buds within the same year. I suggest seeking out IMPERIAL STAR ( available from Johnny's Selected Seeds and from Seeds of Change) as well as the purple variety OPERA ( also from Johnny's). NOTE: If you want to grow Cardoons, this is also the time to sow your seedlings, following the same methods.
ARTICHOKES AND TEMPERATURES
In the past 15 years, new annual varieties of seed-raised Artichokes have been introduced for the home gardener ( primarily for those who live in the north), but before undertaking such a crop, there are a few things to note. First, artichokes require some homework on your part for there are specific needs which must be met - and most of these needs are based around temperature and timing. Seed must germinate at a certain temperature ( outlined at the end of this post), and something called 'Vernalization' ( a short, fake winter that you must expose young plants too in March or April), is essential, as it tricks the plants into thinking that it has passed through two springs, and that this year is the time to form flower buds.
( I am simplifing, but you get the idea - think 'forcing bulbs').
|Artichoke seeds are large, which makes them easy to sow. I presoak them for 24 -36 hours|
ARTICHOKE ARE TAP-ROOTED, WHICH MEANS....
Even though Artichokes are challenging, they can be rewarding (as the best challenging tasks usually are). There are some helpful facts to know about, especially with the physiology of the plant. Artichokes are tap-rooted plants, meaning that they form very deep roots, even as seedlings. As most tap-rooted plants dislike any root disturbance, it makes sense to start seeds in very deep pots to reduce and twisting and turning in the pot.
A root that has turned and twisted in a seedling pot or flat can only spell disaster when you transplant it into the garden. These young plants will sulk and ultimately remain sickly in comparison to their well-rooted kin, who had their long, graceful roots carefully tucked into deep, rich soil with a minimum of distress. You must not try to touch or even straighten out roots, or you will stunt the growth for a few weeks. My solution for tap rooted plants is simple - use a seedling pot called RootTrainers - a 6-8 inch deep system that allows tap rooted seedlings extra room where roots can run deeper than typical seedling trays or pots. Do a Google search for them, Toilet paper rolls will not work well, as the long growing season will result in decay well before seedlings can be planted out, but you may want to try saving your plastic water bottles, and cut the tops off.
Seed must be sown into warm soil, and seed germinates best at 75º. I place my pots under lights, with a heating mat where they will stay for 3 weeks before being moved to the greenhouse, which will be warmer by mid February. Artichokes are warm weather growers, but they are not fans of hot weather. Temps in the 70's are preferred, but the most important cultural note to follow is that seedlings will need a few weeks where they experience cold temps, called vernalization.
VERNALIZATIONWhen late March arrives, your artichoke seedlings will require some fancy temperature- related attention. If one starts seed in January, the transplants will be ready to be planted out by the end of April, but they must be vernalized first - a fancy term for exposing plants to considerably cold temperatures for a few weeks - recent tests by Oregon State suggest that the idea vernalization could be exposing plants ( seedlings) to temperatures at about 40º F for 2-4 weeks to achieve proper vernalization ( other studies suggest that seeds can be vernalized if moistend, for 4 weeks and 35-40º F, but exposing seedlings is easier).
MATT'S ARTICHOKE 101
Growing Artichokes from Seed is easy, just be sure to do the right thing at the right timeHere is my method:
• I first pre-soaked for 24 hours to soften the seedcoat
• Seed is sown 1/4 -1/2 inch deep in RootTrainer pots in mid-January
• Seed tray is placed under lights with bottom heat at 74º F. until seedlings emerge ( 10-14 days)
• Seedlings are transferred to a heating mat in the cold greenhouse after a month indoors, were temps near the roots are kept at 75º F but air is maintained at 50º.
• Seedlings are fertilized bi-weekly to encourage strong growth
• Plants are brought outdoors on cool days starting in mid-march, and only brought in if temperatures drop below 32º at night ( to a porch - one must not bring them back into the warm greenhouse once vernalization has begun, for plants must believe that it is winter in northern California for at least two weeks - keep temps below 40º - it's not as hard as you may think, use a cold porch).
• Plants are set out into the garden in rows that are 3-4 feet apart on May 1.