Image by Amelia Bellows
By Jackie Rhoades
It’s the vegetable of aristocrats, said to be a favorite of the Greek god, Zeus. Its exotic shape and size makes it intimidating to many gardeners, but the truth is, it’s just a thistle. If left to mature, it will form a beautiful blue-purple bloom with a diameter of four to five inches. It’s the artichoke. And seed plants from this elegant treat are easy to grow.
There are, of course, a few questions that need to be asked and answered before you start your seed plants; questions about when to start an artichoke seed, what’s the best process for germinating artichoke seeds and how long does it take artichoke seeds to sprout. Let’s begin at the end which, in the cycle of life, is also the beginning.
Harvesting Artichoke Seeds
Harvesting artichoke seeds is much the same as the one every gardener uses to collect flower seeds. Remember, your artichoke seed plants are, to all intents and purposes, garden flowers from which you harvest and eat the bud. For the average home gardener, all you’ll need is one bud for harvesting artichoke seeds.
Allow the bud to fully open and mature. When the flower begins to brown and die, cut it off, leaving two or three inches of stem. Place the flower head first into a small paper bag – those brown paper lunch sacks are great for this – and, using a piece of string, tie the open end of the bag around the stem and store in a cool, dry place. Do not use plastic bags. They hold in moisture and you want the flower head to dry thoroughly. Once the flower head is completely dry, shake vigorously and voila! You’re harvesting artichoke seeds. Don’t worry about having enough. Artichoke seeds run about 800 to the ounce.
This process is great if you know someone who is already growing artichoke seed plants or if you’re growing store bought plants, but if neither of these scenarios apply, seeds are readily available through catalogs and garden centers and if it’s too late for germinating artichoke seeds for this year’s garden, the same sources can provide you with already growing artichoke plants.
When to Start an Artichoke Seed
When to start an artichoke seed? As soon as those winter blahs have you wishing for spring! Yes, February is the ideal month for germinating artichoke seed, but they can be started as early as January or as late as the middle of March. For those in warmer climates, where winters are mild and without frost, the timing is a little different. Your artichokes can be grown as short lived perennials and seed should be sown directly into the garden in the fall.
When to start seeds is key to healthy flower head production. They will grow into large, bush-like plants that need a very long growing season. To set their buds, artichokes need a period of vernalization, at least two weeks of cold temperatures below 50°F, yet they are extremely frost sensitive. Therefore, your seedlings must be ready to set out right after the last frost date, but before spring temperatures rise too high.
Planting Artichokes – How Long Does It Take Artichoke Seeds to Sprout
Artichoke seed plants are not fast starters, which is another reason for early indoor planting. Give your seeds a healthy start by planting two or three seeds in each 3-4 inch (9 cm) pot. Fill the pot 2/3 full of good quality, compost rich soil-based medium. If the potting mix feels heavy, you can add a little perlite for better drainage. Sprinkle your seeds in the pot and cover with a light dusting of potting mix.
Make this first watering a good one, soaking the soil well and allowing the pots to drain. From here on in, water only when necessary. The soil should never be allowed to become soggy, but don’t let it dry out either. Barely moist is good.
How long does it take artichoke seeds to sprout? It depends on the richness of your potting medium and the quality of light the plants receive. Ideally, germinating artichoke seeds do best under a controlled grow light, but they can do just as well in a warm, sunny window or a greenhouse for those fortunate enough to have one.
To begin germinating, artichoke seeds need a temperature around 70-75°F (20°C) and will take two to three weeks to sprout; another thing that should be taken into account when deciding when to start your artichoke plants.
Once seedlings have sprouted, water them with a weak fertilizer solution at least once a week. These plants are heavy feeders! About a month after sprouting, remove the smallest and weakest seedlings leaving only one per pot.
Your indoor grown seedlings should be 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) when they are ready to be hardened off and planted outdoors. Plant them 1½ to 2 feet (45-60 cm) apart, nourish them well and enjoy the fruits – or should I say ‘flowers’- of your labors.