CASTROVILLE, Calif. — A late Easter and an early start for peak artichoke production meant holiday tables laden with California’s official state vegetable relied more this year on medium and smaller sizes.
Mike HornickField workers harvest Ocean Mist heirloom artichokes.“Larger artichokes are getting fewer and fewer,” Henry Dill, sales manager at Salinas-based Pacific International Marketing, said April 15. “Artichokes are a good Easter item. Typically our best volume would be right around mid-April. They’ve been about two weeks ahead this year.”
At one of its fields near Castroville, Ocean Mist Farms was packing size 18 heirloom artichokes April 14. Volumes were expected to taper off by early May.
“In another two weeks, our peak will be on the decline,” said Chris Drew, an Ocean Mist production manager whose responsibilities include farming about 2,500 acres of heirloom artichokes.
“It’s one of those outlier years on artichokes,” Drew said. “We were probably three weeks ahead of schedule. A frost in December actually really set the plants.”
After that, the state’s warm weather pattern resumed, bringing heavy volumes on by mid-February.
“We usually get to mid-March before the real peak hits,” Drew said. “Our heirlooms were probably the best quality that they’ve been in a long time. We’ve had ample volume all season long.”
Ocean Mist’s Heirloom Artichoke, a perennial artichoke traced back to the company’s origins 90 years ago, will mostly give way to the annual crop from May until its return in September. A handful of heirlooms are kept for summer months.
The grower-shipper has yet to release volume numbers for the season on artichokes. At first glance, it appeared to be on the rise.
“It was a crazy year. It all came at once,” said Kori Tuggle, director of marketing and business development. “But we’ll see. The numbers won’t lie.”
Ocean Mist also produces artichokes in Coachella, Oxnard and Baja Mexico.
The perennial crop stays in a field for 15 to 20 years before it’s relocated. At the end of May the plants are cut back; they will flower again around late August. The fields will again be harvested from September to May.
During peak, each field is harvested weekly.