Text by Niki Jabbour
It may sound a bit odd to be growing artichokes in a northern garden, but it’s actually rather easy to do, and you just can’t beat the flavor and tenderness of homegrown ’chokes.
The key is to start with the right variety. For cool climate gardeners growing artichokes, that’s ‘Imperial Star’, which was bred for annual production. The plants of ‘Imperial Star’ grow about two to three feet tall with an open, vase-shaped growth habit and lovely silvery green foliage. In fact, their appearance makes them a prime candidate for edible landscaping. As for the harvest, expect each plant to yield one to two primary buds (three to four inches across), followed by five to seven smaller chokes (two to three inches across).
Sow seed in late winter, giving plants 8 to 10 weeks to grow before you move them outdoors. In USDA Zones 7 and warmer, artichokes are perennials that first produce buds in their second year, but in the North we need to fool the plants into producing in the first season. To do this, you’ll need to give your seedlings a brief cold treatment by setting them outside in mid-spring when the temperature is hovering around 45˚ to 50˚F (8˚ to 10˚C).
Plant them in prepared garden beds or leave the seedlings in their pots and put them in a sheltered area such as a deck, cold frame or unheated greenhouse. Cover them with cloches or a row cover if temperatures dip below freezing.
After 10 to 14 days, the plants have been tricked into thinking that they have gone through a winter cycle and will behave like second-year plants. Expect the harvest to begin in midsummer and continue until frost.
Niki Jabbour grows edible plants all year near Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the author of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener and Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Learn more at savvygardening.com.
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