Thursday, January 30, 2014

Artichokes in the Northwest

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There is nothing better than a steamed artichoke and a bowl of spicy mayonnaise to dine on. Though with the price of artichokes around $5 (Amazon Fresh Price) a flower bud it can be pretty beneficial to grow your own as each plant can produce 2-20 buds. Of course there is one problem… The Artichoke is natively from the Mediterranean region which is a bit warmer than our northwest. For this reason the commercial artichokes are grown in California. For this reason, if you want to grow an artichoke in the northwest you have to take a few steps to improve your chance of harvesting a head or two in the summer.

Start Early

It takes about 120 days for the plant to produce the artichoke so you’ll want to start these plants indoors a couple of weeks before transplanting them. I start mine at the beginning of February in the grow box to give them the head start. Around April/May is when I’ll be transplanting them outside with the base of the plant covered in about 3-4 inches of mulch, in case we get a freeze. I’ll remove the mulch at the end of May. Of course if you overwintered the artichoke then don’t forget to add some additional nutrients to the soil through a top dressing of fresh compost.

If you want to increase you chance of getting a summer crop you can chill the seedlings (an old refrigerator would be great for this) to about 40 °F for about one week before the hardening process. Otherwise expect not to get chokes the first season.

Transplanting

Since you have been providing a perfect place for these seedlings to take root and begin to grow, it is time to introduce them to the rigors of live. Just like you wouldn’t coddle your children until they reached their 18th birthday and then cut them off completely, you must also allow the artichokes to adjust to your microclimate. The easiest way is to take the plants out to the spot that they’ll be growing and leave them out there for the day. Though if there are going to be any extremes that day (like scorching sun) provide them with some protection. Do this for about a week or two and then transplant them.

When you transplant dig out twice the material as the root ball and add some compost to line the hold. Agitate the roots (especially if it is root bound) and then place it in the hole followed by filling the hole with more compost. Finally water it a little and check on its condition everyday for the next week. This is when you’ll notice if it is stressed or not from the transplanting. Watch out for sun burn on the leaves.

Normal Plant Care

The artichoke doesn’t really require much in the way of care during the growing season. Our northwestern slightly acidic soil is actually preferred by the artichoke which appreciated a pH of 6.0. Though if you want a larger harvest you could feed them every month with a top dressing of compost. If you think out it you are tending a thistle plant and we can see how those grow without any help on our end.

Harvesting

Once the bud has formed, watch it carefully as you want to harvest just as the pedals start to pull back. To harvest it cut the stem about 2 inches below the bud. Also you might notice new buds appearing at the leaves just below the bud, they’ll take about 2-3 weeks to mature.

Winter Preparations

Due to the Puget Sound moderating our winter temperatures, you can actually overwinter the artichokes here. When they start to yellow (around October) cut the stalk down and cover them with about a foot or two of mulch. I prefer to use our giant big leaf maple leaves for this purpose. Just remember that we are trying to prevent the roots from freezing, but the leaves themselves will grow back in the spring even if they freeze. As for the effectiveness of using leaf debris, even with the hard frost that we had (from the polar vortex breakdown) the ground didn’t freeze and the plants are just starting to pop up again.

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