The key to an artichoke crop is trickery

The Recorder, October 15, 2017, by Andy Castillo

DEERFIELD — Artichokes don’t grow well in northern climates because they’re bi-annual — producing edible flowers the second year — and prefer warmer temperatures. But that hasn’t stopped Atlas Farm’s small-scale artichoke production.

“It’s definitely not a typical New England crop,” said farm owner Gideon Porth. “Artichokes need a pretty temperate environment, so they can’t withstand our winters.”

Here in the United States, artichokes are almost exclusively grown in California, where they thrive until winter, then go dormant over a brief winter. Elsewhere, they’re grown in the Mediterranean primarily.

Growing artichokes in South Deerfield requires a little bit of trickery, Porth said. Seeding happens early spring, and they’re allowed to grow for five to six weeks inside a greenhouse. Then, when seedlings are about 5 inches tall, they’re moved into a walk-in cooler for two weeks.

“That meets their dormancy requirements,” Porth said. “All plants are programmed. (Artichokes) need a certain amount of hours in cool temps to initiate flowering. We pull them back into the greenhouse, grow them some more, and then transfer them to the field.”

Transfer happens in June. Come winter, following harvest, their roots have grown to 3 feet across. They die with the frost. Next spring, the process, from planting to harvest, happens all over again.

Atlas Farm’s artichokes are Imperial Star, which Porth noted are easier to trick into dormancy than other varieties.

“We’re condensing two years of growth into one. What they think is the first year of growing is really five or six weeks,” Porth said.

The farm, which has a market on Routes 5 and 10, has planted artichokes “off and on for a lot of years. This year is the first we’ve done it in probably four years. They’re not a super productive crop, in dollars per acre, but it’s something interesting to add.”

Because of a cold, wet spring, Porth said this year’s crop got off to a slow start. But a warm fall has created a long harvesting window.

“They came on pretty nicely. We’re still harvesting now,” he said.