Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jurassic Park?

Good grief, the heat of summer is really upon us. And it's doing a number on all of those spring, cool weather-loving crops. The lettuce and spinach gave in to the sultry weather a couple of weeks ago. Now the fava beans and peas are gasping their last collective breath. Time (and Mother Nature) marches on. But there are some newcomers in the garden that are really soaking up the sun and looking mighty pleased with themselves . . .

Are these strange plants something from the prehistoric history books? Can't you just see the dinosaurs wandering through? Okay, maybe that's just me and my odd imagination. These plants are indeed very contemporary, and I'm sure the dinosaurs never saw them. They're artichokes! This is the very first time I've tried growing them, and even if I don't get something to harvest later, just watching these wonderful monsters grow over the summer will be enough of a treat for me.

But, since I really do like to reap what I've sown, I tried to follow the instructions on the seed packet for these. (Hint: most of the best gardening information you will find anywhere will most likely be on the seed packet and/or the seed catalogue!) Here are the instructions Johnny's gave:

Artichoke, Globe

CULTURE: Sow indoors about 8 weeks before last spring frost date. Sow 1/4" apart and 1/4" deep in lightly moistened soilless mix in a flat or pot. Germinate at 70-80°F (21-27°C). As soon as seedlings can be handled, transplant to 2-4" pots or cell-type containers and grow at 60-70°F (15-21°C) day and 50-60°F (10-15°C) night. Transplant 6-8 week old plants to the garden 2-3' apart. IMPORTANT COLD TREATMENT: Time transplanting so plants get 8-10 days of temperatures around 50°F (10°C) to induce earlier budding. Protect from frost. HARVEST: Clip mature buds midsummer to midfall, depending on location. MILD AREAS: Where winter low is above 14°F (-10°C), sow seeds in fall, harvest in spring. MATURITY: From transplant; add about 20 days if direct seeding. SEED SPECS: SEEDS/LB.: 9,000-12,000 (avg. 10,000). PACKET: 25 seeds.

Hope you read the "IMPORTANT COLD TREATMENT" part. The reason this is crucial is that artichokes are biennials, meaning that under normal circumstances they spend their first year getting large and storing energy. Then they go through a winter, flower the next year, and that's the end of them. And that thing that we call an"artichoke" is actually the immature flower bud of this plant. Artichokes are tender biennials however, meaning that they can't survive a winter that gets below freezing, and as all
of us here in Pittsburgh who survived last winter well know, it certainly does freeze here! So, we need to trick our artichoke plants into thinking they've already gone through a winter: hence the "important cold treatment" statement. I started my artichokes from seed in February under lights in my basement. As soon as the snow thawed I'd put them outside in a cold frame to get their daily chill. There they could be exposed to chilly weather, but also be protected from the cold if the temperatures fell below freezing. (I'd highly recommend getting or building a cold frame for anyone who's as avid a seed-starter as I am!) Once the threat of frost was over I transplanted them to this bed that I'd prepped in my usual way, and mulched with some grass clippings and compost.

So far so good! And no dinosaurs in sight, which is good, because I really wouldn't want this little guy to get hurt.


Seitan Samurai said...

Fascinating. I love arichokes and had never heard of bi-annuals before.
they'd grow in the winter here in Oregon...

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

Lucky you, SS!!