Field Notes: Seasonal Planting- Artichokes

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A mature artichoke plant is truly a beautiful sight to see. A part of the thistle group of the sunflower family, an artichoke plant can reach up to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with deeply serrated leaves and towering flower stocks topped with edible flowers buds with tender leaves that are tightly packed together. The size of the bud is determined by the seed variety and the height of the stock as well as the position of the buds on the stock. If the buds are left to flower, the bright purple blossoms measure up to 7 inches in diameter; a great attraction for bees and other pollinators.

The California Coast has become an ideal spot for artichoke farmers. In 2013, artichokes were proclaimed to be California’s Official Vegetable.  Artichoke prefers cool, moist weather and well drained soil. However, For Spade & Plow, because we are located in the heart of San Martin, the climate is opposite from coastal artichoke farmers, so the season starts in early summer and ends in late spring. Farming artichokes is a year-round operation for Spade & Plow. In April we start our artichoke crop in the greenhouse. In past plantings, we have experimented with two seed varieties: Green Queen and Madrigal. This year we are planting all Madrigal! Our first planting was in mid-June when the weather is moderately warm. The second planting transpired in mid-July. The two plantings of artichokes total in 3 ½ acres of land, the largest of any of our crops. While we are still experimenting with planting dates and crop configuration, the double plantings allow for continuous quality, flavor, and higher yield throughout our artichoke season.

It seems like artichoke season is far from now, but summer is an important time for us. The artichoke transplants leave the safety of the green house and are forced to prevail against the harsher elements of the open fields. One obstacle to our season is timing between plantings. As temperatures rise in late summer, artichoke transplants become more finicky and there are more bugs and slugs that will attack the foliage of young artichoke plants. We are still learning the best weeks to plant. This year we tried planting early in hopes of having an earlier harvest. 

Artichokes are a high-value item with amazing health benefits. We are proud to offer a high-quality product to the market. Many customers ask us about the price of our artichokes and why the general price is higher compared to other products. The truth is that artichokes take up a lot of acreages and they are in the ground for a long time. The cost to grow artichokes is higher than other products at the market. From seed cost to the time it takes to sow seeds and stored in the greenhouse, bed preparation, harvest, and the breakdown at the end of harvest. Artichokes take more work than any other crop. This is reflected in the price of artichokes. We are happy to price our artichokes at $4 each or 3 for $9 at the market and for our CSA members. We are looking forward to our first harvest in December and we hope you are too!

Artichoke Transplants from the greenhouse.

Artichoke Transplants from the greenhouse.

Julia mastering the craft of transplanting

Julia mastering the craft of transplanting

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…and watering begins!

…and watering begins!

Ian Thorp