Every year, we get asked many questions about how we can produce yummy artichokes in Indiana – the answer is – Carefully and with patience! 🙂
First, a word about the nature of artichokes. They are in the thistle family – in fact the plants look downright dangerous! The part we eat is actually the flower, before it blooms. If permitted to bloom it creates a pretty blueish purple bloom. The catch is, the plant must be two years old before it blooms, producing artichokes. Additionally, artichoke plants can not endure freezing – they are a southern plant – and they cannot live through a average Midwest winter, much less a year like this. As you can see, there are a number of issues that would make this plant have difficulty living, much less producing anything, in Indiana.
Fortunately, being a member of the thistle family, so long as it is not to cold it is amazingly adaptable to various planting situations. Taking advantage of that, we planted 50 seeds in soil in a basement planting area last week. They will germinate slowly without sunlight, but once up their leaves quickly turn green and they put effort into a massive root system. It is because of these roots that they must soon be transplanted into 5 gallon buckets. If their root hits resistance it will stunt the plant and it likely will not bloom. The bucket provides space. They remain underground with artificial lighting and plenty of water until sometime in March or April – whenever the night temperatures are around freezing and the day between 40 and 60.
At this point we transport them up into the unheated high tunnels on the farm. Believing it is winter after their first year of life they go dormant and slow their growth to survive “winter”. As the soil begins to warm, in late April or early May, but before they run out of room for their roots, we transplant the artichokes a final time – this time into the ground in the garden, a final home. As June comes they think it is the start of their second year and come to life!
They gain giant spiked leaves and, finally, reward us for our effort by yielding delicious artichokes for us and you at market!
We are still working on trying to devise a way to keep the plants alive in the ground through an Indiana winter as they would get even bigger and produce more in their third year, but so far have not been successful. Given the extreme cold this year we don’t expect any breakthroughs in that department. However, the new seedlings are planted and we look forward to the fruit of this labor – bringing fresh Indiana grown artichokes to market again this summer for your enjoyment! 🙂