How to save globe artichoke seeds

The time is here to save your globe artichoke seeds!  I’ve shot a video showing how I go about the process, but I’ll go into some detail with photos down below.

If you grow globe artichokes and have wondered about saving your own seeds it is super-duper easy to do.  You only need a few tools that you probably have lying around your house anyway.  So let’s do this!

I first save globe artichoke seeds in 2015.  We had a very hot June that my artichoke plants loved–and they began flowering shortly after the hot spell.  I decided to take a gamble and see if I could produce my own seeds.  Gardening in the Rocky Mountains is always a gamble–cold, hot, snow, drought, hail…we have it all.  But to grow globe artichokes, which are only hardy to Zone 7 (we’re a Zone 4), well, those are a challenge.  It can be done, but it takes more effort than in a warmer climate.  But to save seeds?  That just sounds ridiculous.  But I have now done it twice, and I know the first set were viable because some of the plants I grew last year were started from seeds I saved in 2015.  And I’m fairly confident the seeds I harvested this year are viable as well.  I’ll know soon enough come January.

In order to save the seeds all you have to do is let your artichokes flower.  The bees will help to ensure you produce seeds:

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There are at least 4 bees on this one flower–I have other photos that show 6 or more bees on the same flower–these flowers are quite literally the bees’ knees!

Once they flower, then you just wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.  You have to wait until the flowers dry up on the stalks and then, and only then, may you cut them.  I wait until the last. possible. moment. to make my cut.  Ideally, you want to harvest the dried flowers after a long dry, warm spell.  We had a good one this fall, and right before the weather turned cold and snowy I cut them off.  They look like this:

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The bracts turn tan, the flower petals are still slightly purple.  When dry, the bracts become very sharp–you can see the sharp tips in the above photo.  When removing these bracts to get to the seeds, you’ll want some hand protection.  I prefer leather gloves.

Now comes the fun part–tearing apart the flower head.  It’s like Christmas for seed savers!  Using needle nose pliers, you just rip those bracts right off the flower, working your way inward to the soft, fluffy pappus that is attached to the top of the seed. I think they are very cool:

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I use at least one leather glove on the hand that I use to hold the artichoke, then I use the pliers in the hand without the glove.

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You can see several of the seeds in the middle of this head.  To me, they look like little grey, fat dog ticks.  I know that is really gross, but I’m sure you now have a really good image of what these seeds look like!  There are dozens and dozens of seeds on one artichoke head.

Not all of the seeds will be fully developed.  Some will be small and not viable like the ones shown at the top of this photo:

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When you finish pulling away all the fluff and seeds, you are left with a ‘naked receptacle.’ (I love that term.  It is, by the way, a true botanical description.  I am not making this up.)

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Now you have to separate your pile of seeds from the chaff and fluff and then store them in the fridge until you are ready to plant them.  I put my seeds in old pill bottles with one of those little silica gel packs to absorb moisture.  I’ll dig them out in January when I start seeds in my basement.

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And that, my friends, is how you save globe artichoke seeds.  It’s not complicated.  It is a little time consuming.  I have 3 heads saved from this summer and this photo is of just one of those heads!  It took me about an hour to rip through the head, so I’m saving the others for another day.  As you can see, I will have no shortage of seeds for next year!

Finally, the remaining two heads waiting to be de-seeded and the After Fluff, heading for the compost:

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My amazing little artichoke is flowering

Upon re-reading my title, I realized it might actually sound a little bit naughty…if you are the type that keeps your head in the gutter, that is (and apparently I am one of those people if I thought this in the first place.  Hmmm.).  Upon even further reflection though, I think the thought came to mind because years ago, when I was teaching biology, I was doing an internet search for an image of an artichoke to use in a lecture.  One would think that searching for “artichoke” is innocent enough, but I guess I was naive because I stumbled across an image of a very well-endowed woman wearing, well, not much of anything.  How exactly was that related to artichokes?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  If you happen to know the answer, please let me know.

Anyhoo…moving on.

My artichoke–the plant…in my garden–the one that survived the -22 degrees F winter last year.  Oh, right…that one!  Yes, well, I let a few of the flowers bloom in the hopes that I can save the seed and propagate some Montana hardy globe artichokes.  Because starting the seed in January is sort of a pain and I would rather not dig up my plants every year to overwinter in the basement, only to have the aphids hatch out of the soil and suck them dry a few weeks before they were to be replanted (Harumph!).  You see, I would absolutely love to offer artichokes to our CSA members!  And I will make it happen.  Maybe next year, maybe not next year, but it will happen.

Have you ever seen an artichoke in flower?  They are BEAUTIFUL!

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And they are humongous.  And the bees love ’em.  This one actually has a bee on it (on the right side you can just barely see some its black & yellow fuzzy body tucked down in the purple petals).  Here’s a few more pictures:

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And these were the small heads I let bloom!  I harvested the big ones!

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We have at least a month, and possibly a lot longer, before the first freeze is expected, so these babies should have plenty of time left to set seed.  When the time comes to clean the seed from the flower head, I’ll post some photos and/or video because it is quite a process to clean them!  The first time I cleaned the seed, I was surprised at how involved it was.  Teaser: needle nose pliers were involved.  That’s all I’m gonna say.

This weekend Hubby is continuing work on the fence.  It’s been on the wish list for a few years now, and I’m so happy it’s finally coming to fruition.  The deer will have to find other peppers, cucumbers, beans, strawberries, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb, sunflowers, kale (the list is pretty much endless) to eat because this buffet is closing its doors.  The chickens will have a much larger space to roam, so that will make them very happy.  It will make me very happy, too, because it means the Girls won’t have access to the backyard and the deck anymore–which means: I won’t be stepping in chicken poop anymore when I go out on my deck!

Ah, it is the simple things in life that bring me the greatest pleasure.