Purple of Romagna artichoke variety is as delicious as it is beautful!
Artichokes are the tender, delicious immature flower buds of a large thistle. This tender perennial has a prickly reputation for being hard to grow, but it can successfully be grown over most of the country.
Artichoke field growing in California!
This crop is normally associated with California, where it's grown commercially in mild-climate coastal areas. There's a reason for that: artichokes are not hardy enough to overwinter outdoors, at least without protection, in most of the country. They also don't yield until their second year, ordinarily, which makes for a challenging combination of traits! But with a little special handling, these seemingly incompatible characteristics can be reconciled, and in most areas, you can finesse a modest crop in a single season!
Green Globe artichokes growing in a warm sunny field in California.
The artichoke plants themselves are easy enough from seed. The large seeds sprout easily if soaked a few hours and planted into warm soil, and grow quickly. They like full sun, frost-free temps, adequate moisture and rich soil. But how do you get a crop?
Purple of Romagna artichoke puts on a stunning display of purple flowers!
There are two main strategies to harvest home-grown artichokes outside of the California coast and other similarly favored areas. The first is straightforward: plant in spring, growing in large containers, moving them indoors when winter looms.Overwinter your plants, in their containers, in slightly-above-freezing temperatures. Don't try to keep them actively growing. So long as temps are low, the plants remain dormant. (Besides, they need a several-week chilling period to stimulate flowering.) Be stingy with watering—wet, cool soil causes rot. Next spring bring plants back outdoors just as frosts are ending. In fall, back inside they go, repeating the cycle. With care, a plant handled this way yields chokes year after year.
Artichokes grow abundantly at the Baker Creek gardens in Mansfield, Missouri.
The second method produces artichokes in a single season, beginning from an early, indoor planting. The process is called “vernalization,” and amounts to “tricking” your plants into “thinking” they have experienced winter. Start by planting the seeds indoors, about three months ahead of your last frost date. Optimal temperature range is about 60-80 degrees. Allow seedlings to develop 2-3 pairs of leaves. At this point, move the plants into cool conditions (below 45 degrees F., but above freezing) for several weeks. Then return the seedlings to warmth. (This might be the time to set the plants outdoors, if your timing was right; or if you can trust your weather, transplant out ahead of last frost date, vernalizing them in the last chilly weather of spring. Artichokes tolerate a little light frost with no damage.) Then grow them on, providing the best possible conditions to favor the quickest growth and hasten the plant into blooming. Once you get your 'chokes to produce flower buds, you're home free. Mature plants produce many buds over a long season—simply cut off each bud, with an inch of stem, when it has reached its fill size but before the “scales” begin to separate, which signals that the bud is about to bloom.
Green Globe artichokes are a very tasty treat!
Your home-grown artichokes may not be enormous, but they will be so much fresher and more nutritious than tired-out grocery store ones. And you'll have the pleasure of having succeeded with this unusual, not-so-prickly thistle!
Purple of Romagna artichoke and flower!