Tuesday, March 3, 2015

ARTICHOKES


Artichokes are perennial in some places on earth.  It is hit or miss when trying to overwinter artichoke plants in Sitka. Because we often have so much rain and multiple freeze/thaws throughout winter, artichoke roots tend to gradually rot away. So, if you love artichokes and want to have them growing in your garden, consider them to be annuals. Sitka, in fact, is an ideal place to grow artichokes. Artichoke plants are happiest in a cool, moist environment. We Sitkans are well acquainted with cool and moist!






It's a good idea to get artichoke seeds started plenty early. Start as early as February, but probably no later than late March. With an early start, you will be harvesting large, delicious buds by September.

An idiosyncrasy with artichoke plants is seedling failure to thrive. One or two out of every five little plants will be  noticeably scrawny and/or pale. They need to be discarded because they will not grow into large, healthy, productive plants. Consequently, start 4 or 5 seeds in each of the 4" pots.
I like to load the soil into the pots outside so I don't make a mess indoors.





Which variety of artichoke should you grow? Every time I discover a new variety of artichoke, I try it. They have all done equally well. Three reliable, easy to acquire varieties are  IMPERIAL STAR,  GREEN GLOBE  and  VIOLETTO. This year I am trying a new variety, TAVOR, along with an old favorite, IMPERIAL STAR.






Cover over the seeds in the potting soil with a  1/2" layer of fine sand, if you have some. If you have no sand handy, then use more soil. Water each 4" pot gently and thoroughly and cover the entire tray loosely with plastic. Place the tray in your warmest location or on a seed warming mat. Check and water regularly. As sprouts appear, permanently remove the plastic and place the labelled 4" pots in the tray in your best indoor light.  





Two weeks later:








No need for a warming mat or plastic cover now. Let these seedlings in their 4" pots grow into good sized plants for four to six weeks before removing, separating and transplanting individually into gallon sized containers.







Place these larger plants in a greenhouse or cold frame type environment. Water regularly and let them grow and get accustomed to the cooler nights for up to a month before planting outside, mid to late May, in fertile soil in your sunniest location.
The artichoke plants should be spaced about two to three feet apart 









because they will become quite large.




Once you have the artichokes planted, it is best to keep the plants covered with a floating row cover. It will keep them quite a bit warmer than without. This improves growth remarkably in our cool climate.




Artichokes are not only delicious, but quite beautiful!










Overwintering artichoke plants is worth a try. At the end of the season, cut each artichoke plant to about 12" above the soil and mulch heavily leaving the top 2" or so exposed. That way you will protect the plant from freezing and be able to see where the plant is located come spring. We use the leaf, needle and seaweed mix accumulated at the high tide line at the top of ocean beaches in fall for a mulch. If new shoots emerge in spring, push the mulch aside and watch the wonder of perennial artichokes!




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