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Garden Tips from The Micro Farm Project: How to Grow Asparagus

Updated on March 15, 2013

Spears of Joy

There is something primal, even sexy about growing asparagus in the garden that is lost to those who are only familiar with the canned variety. During the harvest each spring, it is with joyous anticipation that I visit the garden daily, simply for the satisfaction of finding those tender new shoots reaching up towards the sun. The magic lasts only a few weeks,and then it's gone, so I have learned to be prepared in advance in order to make the most of the harvest. A flurry of grilling, steaming, and blanching occurs as we enjoy as many of the fresh spears as we can consume, and preserve the rest to enjoy throughout the year.

Growing asparagus is easy. Here are some tips to maximize production and ways to prepare and preserve the harvest.

Asparagus Description

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that can grow for many years with proper care. Well-kept plants are known to produce for 15 years or longer!

Like humans, asparagus plants are either male or female. For many reasons, the male plants are preferable in the garden and many modern hybrids are only available in the male variety. Read on for more information about the advantages of growing all-male asparagus plants.

Asparagus Crowns
Asparagus Crowns

Planting Asparagus

Site preparation: Plant asparagus in full sun. Soil should be rich and well-drained. Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 foot, adding plenty of compost to the planting bed. Asparagus grows best in a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5.

When to plant: Plant crowns when soil temperatures reach 50 degree Fahrenheit.

Planting and spacing: Growing asparagus from 1-year-old crowns will give you a harvest a year sooner than growing from seed. Select all-male hybrids to maximize your harvest (female plants produce fewer spears in favor of producing seeds.) Dig a 5” deep furrow. Fill the bottom of the furrow with compost and phosphorous-rich organic fertilizer. Plant crowns sideways, 18 inches apart in the furrow. Backfill the furrow with loose soil.

Space furrows at least 4 feet apart: Asparagus ferns grow tall and may shade other vegetables, so plant on the north or west side of the garden.

To grow from seed, prepare the top layer of the bed with fine, loose soil. Sow the seed into thin rows 2-inches deep. Space rows at least one foot apart. Keep the soil moist until the shoots begin to appear.

Seeds will germinate in about three weeks. Thin seedlings so that they are spaced 2-inches apart. Thin them again when they are about 6-inches tall so that the plants are spaced 18-inches apart.

If the variety that you planted produces both male and female plants, remove any females as soon as you are able to identify them by their berries.

Asparagus Crowns and Seeds

Asparagus is a 'dioecious' plant, which means male and female flowers are present on different plants. The advantages of growing male plants are as follows:

1. Male asparagus plants are longer-lived than female plants.

2. Male plants emerge earlier in spring than female plants.

3. Male plants do not produce berries, which compete with the spears and roots for nutrients. Asparagus plants store nutrients in the crown and roots for the following year's harvest, so competition for these nutrients may decrease the yield and the plant's longevity. Male plants tend to have a higher yield than female plants.

4. The weight of the berries on female plants can contribute the the crown and roots dislodging from the soil in particularly wet or windy conditions.

5. Male plants do not produce seeds that can result in unwanted volunteer seedlings. Generally, volunteer seedlings are inferior o the original parent plant.

The crown varieties listed below are all-male hybrids. The Mary Washington seeds will produce both male and female seedlings, but it is a very prolific variety, a favorite of organic gardeners and heirloom plant enthusiasts. You can thin the female plats, or allow them to grow for seed collection. Seeds collected from this heirloom variety will produce offspring that is the same quality as the parent plant.

Amazon offers FREE Super Saver shipping on qualified orders of $25 or more, so I generally stock up on garden supplies when I order to save on the shipping fees.

Asparagus Spears
Asparagus Spears

Asparagus Cultivation

Water and feeding: Water deeply on a regular schedule, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Asparagus is very drought-tolerant and seeks moisture deep in the soil. Do not allow the bed to become waterlogged. Add compost or a low nitrogen fertilizer to the planting bed monthly.

Cultivation: Keep the bed weed-free by mulching heavily and manually removing any weeds or grass that pops up. Do not use a pre-emergent herbicide or it may impede the growth of new asparagus shoots. At the end of the harvest season, cut spears to ground level and cover with a thick layer of compost.

Pests and Diseases: Asparagus has no serious pest or disease problems. Do not allow the soil to become waterlogged to prevent asparagus rust. Cut back ferns to prevent asparagus beetle infestation.

Photo credit: Geograph.org.uk

Asparagus Harvest
Asparagus Harvest

Harvesting Asparagus

Though opinions vary, it is generally recommended to forgo harvesting asparagus in the first year. Allow the spears and ferns to grow and die off naturally, leaving the dead ferns intact over the winter. Cut or mow the ferns low to the ground after the last frost date in your area.

In the second year, harvest lightly, leaving lots of shoots to grow and fern in order to put down nutrients for the third-year growth. The harvest period will last 2-3 weeks.

In the third year, harvest 7” spears by snipping them low to the ground. Some sources recommend cutting the spears below the ground, but this method risks damage to the plant's root system. Harvest before the spears begin to fern out and become woody. Always harvest all of the spears, never allowing ferns to develop during the harvest period from the third year forward, as they may provide a home for pests. Harvest will last 4-6 weeks.

When spear production slows and spears become smaller than ¼ inch, stop harvesting and allow the last spears to fern. Then, when growth stops and new spears cease to emerge, cut the plant to the ground and allow it to go dormant until the next growing season

Photo credit: Fotopedia.com.

sauteed asparagus
sauteed asparagus

Storing and Preserving Asparagus

Asparagus is very tender and perishable. Immerse freshly cut spears in ice water, drain and store in the refrigerator in plastic bags. Use the asparagus or freeze it within a few days for the freshest flavor.

To freeze asparagus for long-term storage, blanch (dip) the spears in simmering water for one minute. Then, quickly remove them from the hot water and immerse them in ice water until they are cool. Drain and lay them flat in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer. After a few hours, when the spears are frozen solid, quickly remove them from the cookie sheet and pack in zipper bags to freeze immediately, before they have time to thaw out. By freezing using this freezing method, you can pack them in portion-sized bags, or in one large container, removing only the amount that you want to use at any given time.

Photo credit: Searunner.sv-timemachine.net

Vacuum-Seal Foods for the Freshest Quality and Flavor

Keep harvested vegetables as fresh as the day they were picked and reduce waste by using a vacuum sealer to bag them. I received one as a gift, and it has been a godsend. I used to spend hours picking, washing, blanching and freezing veggies, only to have them turn mushy and tasteless in the freezer, or develop ice crystals that rendered them inedible. What a waste of money, time and effort!

My aunt is an avid gardener, and on a visit she happened to mention how she uses her Food Saver machine to preserve her vegetables, as well as breads, crackers, spices, herbs and other perishable items. She raved about how foods stored with a vacuum sealer seemed to last forever, maintaining their original color, taste and texture. I was fascinated, and asked for my own machine for my birthday.

When my machine arrived, I was just beginning to pick yellow squash, and my harvest baskets were overflowing! I blanched and froze the squash in vacuum-sealed bags. That was two years ago, and I recently found one of the bags of squash in the freezer, under a bunch of other veggies. It still looked bright yellow and fresh, so I opened the bag and steamed it. To my delight, it still tasted fresh and delicious.

FoodSaver V3835 Automatic Vacuum Sealing System with SmartSeal Technology
FoodSaver V3835 Automatic Vacuum Sealing System with SmartSeal Technology

While I don't recommend leaving vegetables in the freezer for two years like I did, I do highly recommend using a Food Saver machine to preserve excess harvest. It is much easier to freeze veggies than it is to can them, and the veggies maintain their original quality and nutritional value for a very long time. While the Food Saver machine is not cheap, it will surely save you a lot of money in the long run.

 
sauteed asparagus
sauteed asparagus

Cooking Asparagus

I find that asparagus is best lightly steamed or sauteed in olive oil with a splash of lemon juice and dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder. It can also be brushed with olive oil and lemon juice for grilling. Whatever method you choose, do not overcook asparagus, or it will become tasteless and mushy.

Young spears are crisp and tender, perfect for eating raw as an addition to a relish tray or salad.

Need more ideas for cooking and serving asparagus? Visit Grit: Rural American Know-How here:

10 Best Asparagus Recipes

Photo credit: Umami.typepad.com">

Below are a few recommended items for cooking asparagus. Some folks like to remove the spines and outer peel, and an asparagus peeler makes this job easy. I have also included a recommended steamer. Note that this steamer is able to do double-duty in the kitchen. Steaming is not only a healthy option when cooking asparagus or other veggies for the table, but it can also replace blanching when preparing vegetables for the freezer. Finally, there is displayed a pretty asparagus serving plate and tong.

Photo credit:  Umami.typepad.com  Barcelona
Photo credit: Umami.typepad.com Barcelona

This recipe was handed down to me from my mother, and it is a family favorite. Yes, it has asparagus in it, and it's delicious.

I call it "Second-Chance" because I have found that many people turn up their noses at the thought of tuna casserole. This is because so many versions of tuna casserole are downright terrible! This one is a winner, and I hope that you will try the recipe and give tuna casserole a second chance.

I have included in the recipe list a number of canned soups. If you prefer not to use canned foods, substitute fresh soups of similar nature. You can also substitute low-fat or low-sodium soups, if your diet requires them. Finally, water chestnuts are optional, and whole milk yogurt is a wonderful substitute for the mayo.

  • Prep time: 15 min
  • Cook time: 1 hour 30 min
  • Ready in: 1 hour 45 min
  • Yields: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can of cream of celery soup
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can of sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 jar of pimentos
  • 1/2 cup of mayonaise
  • 1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh asparagus
  • 1 small can of tuna fish
  • 1 bag of cooked and drained elbow macaroni noodles
  • Dash of salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Blanch or steam fresh asparagus until tender, and slice into 1/2 inch pieces.
  3. Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl, excluding the noodles. Spread 1/3 of the mixture to cover the bottom of a 9 X 11" casserole pan. On top of the mixture, spread half of the cooked noodles. Cover the noodles with 1/2 of the remaining soup mixture. Add a second layer of noodles, and cover them with the remaining soup mixture. Spread shredded cheese evenly over the top.
  4. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese browns slightly.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the casserole to cool for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.
Cast your vote for Second-Chance Tuna Casserole

Are you an asparagus-lover?

There is really not a lot of middle ground with asparagus. People either love it or hate it. My husband hated it, until we started to grow it and he was able to taste it fresh out of the garden (as he has with a lot of other vegetables that we grow!)

Which side of the fence are you on?

Asparagus: Love it or hate it?

More About Growing Asparagus

There are lots of opinions concerning how to grow asparagus, and many different cultivation methods for different climates and soil types. I recommend reading more than one source before planting. The books and links below are a great start. If you live in the U.S., you can find pinpoint information for your part of the country by doing an internet search for the university extension office or the master gardener volunteers in your area.

Have questions or comments about growing, preserving or cooking asparagus? Post them here. If you have a related lens or webpage, free free to post a link. Kindly link back to this article in return. Thanks for stopping by!

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    • profile image

      tonyleather 3 years ago

      I love asparagus, but patience is the key ingredient in growing it! My own patch took nearly five years to become really productive, and that is not unusual!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Sorry Kari this one vegetable I just don't like much. I will eat it grilled. Thanks so much for stopping by and linking up at Transformed Tuesday.

      Hugs,

      Peggy~PJH Designs

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm waiting for my asparagus to reach maturity :) Thanks for sharing this on The creative HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you this weekend!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I always look forward to the spring harvest of asparagus, it is one of our favorite vegetables. Great info in the article, thanks for sharing this on Hearth & Soul Hop. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great info :) Thanks so much for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop!

    • Resident-Nerd profile image

      Resident-Nerd 4 years ago

      Nice lens