Artichokes in Alaska

I read Jeff Lowenfels column on gardening in the Anchorage Daily News and a last month  I noticed his garden calender said it was time to start artichoke seeds.  Artichokes, I thought, I love artichokes.  It never occurred to me that I could grow artichokes this far north.  So I did a bit of research and found some articles and forum topics indicating that yes it really is possible to grow artichokes up here and no they don’t have to be in a greenhouse.

The trick is to get a really early start indoors and grow them as an annual (they can’t survive winter up here).  I found out that depending on the variety you may have to trick them into thinking they’re two years old.  How do you trick an artichoke?  Apparently you set it out in cool weather (around 50F) for a couple of weeks so the plant thinks it’s winter.  Then when it warms up the plant thinks it’s entering its second summer.  This process of tricking the plants is known as vernalization (for the geeks like me out there who like scientific terms). This is important as most varieties don’t produce until the second year.  Some new varieties, like the Imperial Star, have been developed specifically for annual production.  I ended up with seeds for the Emerald Artichoke (just because that’s the variety I bought on an impulse).

I decided that all this didn’t seem to hard and I was anxious to plant something.  Soon after I noticed that one local big box store had their seed display up.  And they had a pack of artichokes seeds.  I couldn’t resist and brought home a mini seed starting kit and some seeds.  I planted 6 artichoke seeds in the little peat pots, watered, but the lid on, and set them in a sunny spot.  This was back on March 4.  Then I waited and waited.  The packet said they would germinate in 14 days.  14 days came and went with no sign of anything green.  I did a big more research and discovered artichokes need warm soil temps to germinate.  I guessed that my seeds were too cold.  About the same time I bought seed heating mat so I set my little seeds on that to give them some warm.  Two sprouted but the other 4 rotted away.

Here those two plants are 29 days after planting.

I started a few more seeds, just 4 more as my seed packet only had 10 seeds to start with.  This time I soaked them in warm water for a few hours then folded them up in a damp paper towel sealed inside a plastic baggie.  I set the baggie on the heated seed mat so it would stay nice and warm.  4 days later the seeds had sprouted.  I then planted them into peat pots.  Sorry I forgot to take any pics of this step.  Just planted them with the sprouted bit (which will become the root) downwards and just enough soil to cover the seed.

Here those plants are 8 days from the soaking, 4 days in the soil.

I hope in the end to have 3 plants to set out.  I don’t think I’ll have room for more.  Artichokes take up a lot of space.  They can get 5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide, so not exactly the best choice in a small garden.  These, however, are going to go into some large containers.  I’m thinking of adding some wheels to the base so I can roll them in and out.  I’m going to set them alongside of my house, near my drive.  So, it’ll be easy to roll them into the garage if frost threatens.  There is plenty of space and sunlight over there and the space isn’t being used for anything right now.  The downside of this plan is that they’ll be outside the fence and thus easy picking for moose.  Will moose eat artichoke plants?  I have no idea…they’re suppose to be fairly resistant to browsers but moose take browsing to a whole different level.  Guess I’ll find out.


2 responses to this post.

  1. wow, browsing moose! Yes, the challenges of gardening in Alaska are VERY different from what I face in California… (I feel silly about complaining about chickens and cats now! LOL.) I’d think that the prickly thistle plants would deter animals, but they ARE succulent if the moose mouths can get past the prickles.


  2. Posted by Kim on August 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve started noticing artichokes growing in large flower beds around Anchorage as foliage, and it has me thinking about growing them in some pots outside my garden. I’m starting to wonder if you HAVE to do annuals, or if can you plant them in big pots and when frost threatens, wheel them in as you said, and when the growing season is over, just keep it in the heated garage at 50 degrees and water a few times through the winter. I wonder if it will come back? Guess it will be an interesting experiment.


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