Growing Asparagus

A spring delicacy

At a couple bucks or more per pound, asparagus is often reserved for special occasions like Easter or Passover and Mother's Day brunch. Whether its served plain or with a hollandaise sauce, it makes a delectable side dish.

In the US, asparagus is often available most of the year as an import. It's season in North American gardens is from March to June, depending on the region and weather.

Harvested, transported asparagus quickly begins to lose it's moisture and sweetness, so locally grown asparagus is much more desirable than imported. As with many vegetables, asparagus is best eaten fresh from the garden and is a supremely satisfying delicacy.

Asparagus is relatively simple to grow and, as a perennial, can provide decades of enjoyment once it is established. Despite its virtues, asparagus is not ordinarily found in home gardens because it takes several years to establish and quite a bit of room. However, if you have the space, there are few vegetables that are more gratifying.

Varieties

Select an all-male variety such as Jersey Giant®. They produce a much higher yield than the old standard Martha Washington variety.

Cultivation

Plants should be set out in early spring, in a sunny location, as soon as the soil can be worked. (In warmer climates, plant in the fall.) It takes three years to establish a productive bed. Two dozen crowns can produce enough asparagus for a small family, and by planting an extra dozen, there will be enough to freeze. It's possible to start asparagus from seed, but takes a couple years longer and much more cultivation.

Asparagus is a pretty forgiving plant and will grow in most soil with a fairly neutral pH (6.0–6.7). However, it doesn't like having wet feet, so good drainage is a must. If soil is on the acid side, adjust pH with wood ash or lime. Space is mandatory for full root development, so plant in a permanent bed where soil is loose and fertile. Seasonal composting with a rich manure and topping it off with an organic mulch will keep plants healthy and productive.

Plant crowns 18 inches apart in holes that are about 9 inches deep and wide. Cover the crowns with several inches of soil, gradually filling in the holes with more soil as the plants grow during their first summer. The tops of the crowns should be about 6 inches under the surface, which will permit cultivation and development of new shoots. Cultivate and clean the beds for the first two years but do not harvest the shoots.

During the third season, you can harvest for six to eight weeks in the spring. Snap spears off at ground level to prevent damage to emerging shoots. After six weeks, allow fern growth to continue. In the fall, cut all ferns and burn to prevent disease.

Asparagus needs regular feeding: once in the spring when it begins to emerge, then again when you're finished with your harvest, usually about June.

Pests and disease

Asparagus beetles and aphids are the most common pest problems. Prevention is the best cure, so burn dried fronds to keep the location clean. Take the advice given in the March 1926 Better Homes and Gardens magazine: "One good method of control is to turn in the chickens and allow them to consume the greedy pest." Not only will they eat the beetles, but they'll fertilize and aerate the soil at the same time.

Rust can be a problem if the varieties are not rust-resistant. Rust becomes a problem primarily when plants are too close and air flow is inhibited. To mitigate, provide a clear location with good air flow and plant rust resistant varieties.

Books

Square Foot Gardening

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible: Discover Ed's High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions


Thinking about raised beds? Design a garden for convenience and efficiency. Hire a qualified landscape contractor through UpdateRenovate to help.

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