This was our first year successfully growing artichokes on the farm, though when I was growing up they were a favorite crop of my family’s. I’ve seen several Mainers adding artichokes to their gardens in recent years and the seeds for them now are more compatible with the Northeastern climate. However, when my parents first started growing artichokes it was quite a challenge, and it remains an unusual vegetable in a Maine garden.
Once you’ve sourced some hardy artichoke seeds from your favorite supplier, you should plan to sow them indoors at least eight weeks before the last frost. Artichokes like moist soil and germinate at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They will start to grow after about eight days and once they have at least four leaves can be transplanted into larger pots for growing out.
What makes artichokes a unique and challenging vegetable in the Northeast – or anywhere above Zone 7 – is that they require vernalization. What is vernalization? It is a process through which you convince the plant by temperature changes that it has gone through at least one winter. In the mild climates that artichokes are traditionally grown in, they are considered a perennial and are typically sown in the fall, over winter, and produce in the late spring and early summer. Here in Maine, they are not going to survive the negative temperatures and feet of snow that are the hallmarks of our winters, so they need to be convinced they’ve made it through a full year in order to bear fruit.
This characteristic of artichokes means they require more attention and time than other varieties, which can deter potential growers. But the process of vernalization is actually fairly simple. After maintaining 60-70 degree days for your seedlings as they grow (usually in a greenhouse or cold frame), move the artichokes to a location around 50 degrees for at least ten days. This can often be done simply by moving them outdoors. Be careful not to allow them to get too cold – a frost will damage or kill them. You can often transplant them at this time, and the natural warming of the spring will let them know when summer has begun.
Once you’ve completed the vernalization process with the artichokes, plant them in full sun and keep them well watered and fed. You should start seeing buds in early summer and continue harvesting throughout the season.
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