Tips for Growing Asparagus
In a number of regions of the United States, and other countries too, you can see asparagus growing wild along a number of the roads you travel. That's because if left alone, the vegetable, which is a hardy perennial - thrives.
As far as vegetables that we all know about, I'm not aware of any other that grows wild in the prolific and same manner that asparagus does.
That's not to say there aren't things to be done to develop a strongly producing asparagus bed that will provide great plants year after year for you. As once they are established in a bed, they can last for up to 20 years. Some experts say they can live and produce even longer.
For best results a place unrelated to the major garden, or on its edge, is the best location for asparagus because if its propensity to spread.
Asparagus, Vegetable Steamer
Choosing Your Asparagus
For a long time the options for lovers of growing asparagus were limited, as most of the most well known varieties were female, and thus dropping seeds and spreading out and crowding the bed, to the detriment to the quality of the vegetable. The female plants also suffer from the additional requirement of need extra energy to produce the seed.
The new varieties that have been recently offered to gardeners are for the most part male, which produce a larger spear because all its energy is put into growth, rather than spread out to reproduction. They are also not partially cannibalized by the young sprouts as their female counterparts are.
When the line of asparagus which produces male plants was discovered, they were worked into a number of very strong varieties. When looking for asparagus varieties, ask for the male plants, as they'll produce higher yielding, larger spears.
Because of the longevity of the asparagus, it's important to make the right decision on the particular variety because of the time it takes to establish the asparagus bed, and how long they last once they're in the ground.
Another benefit of the new varieties is they are resistant to fusarium and rust, as well as being more cold tolerant than older varieties.
Planting Asparagus from Seed
For a patient gardener, the option of planting asparagus from seed is a tempting one because it offers a wider selection of varieties and lets you know that they are the freshest of plants.
Be aware that it'll add an additional year on to the already lengthy period of time associated with firmly establishing a healthy bed of asparagus.
If you choose seeds, they should be sown in a separate bed made for that sole purpose. Let them grow for a year before placing them in a permanent bed. Dig the crowns up before they begin to grow and put them in the permanent bed you've prepared for them.
Sow the seeds in a row about two inches apart and half an inch deep. Wait until the soil temperature reaches about 60°F before placing the seed in the ground.
When to Plant Asparagus Crowns or Plants
The majority of home gardeners will choose to grow asparagus from crowns that are a year old, or from plants of the same age.
Once the ground can be worked in early spring, place the asparagus plants or crowns in the soil. If you don't know what crowns are, they're buds in the center with a number of roots about the size of a pencil hanging off of them.
How to Plant Asparagus
If you're planting asparagus plants, place them in a trench from twelve to eighteen inches wide and half a foot deep.
For asparagus crowns, spacing for them should be from about 9 inches to 12 inches apart. Make sure to spread the roots out in a uniform manner, setting the bud side of the crown up pointing towards the surface of the soil. The crown should be a little higher than the roots of the plant.
Immediately cover the crowns with close to 2 inches of soil. As the summer presses on, fill in the remaining part of the trench a little at a time as the plants continue to grow higher.
For those of you already having an asparagus bed, if the plants continue to push up as they mature, you can add an inch or two of soil between the rows to compensate for that.
As mentioned earlier, the decision to choose a newer variety of asparagus deals with much of the disease issue concerning the vegetable plants, along with the competition from newly-seeded spears if you were to acquire female asparagus that were popular in the past. Remember to buy the newer male varieties.
The unusual lifespan of the asparagus makes it even more important than usual for a gardener to prepare the soil before planting. Add whatever organic materials you have to build up the soil, or buy some at the store to mix in. Once the asparagus are in place, there's nothing you'll be able to do in that regard without destroying the plants and bed.
For fertilizing, use a balanced fertilizer for the first three years of plant growth, applying it in the spring. In the fourth year of growth, wait until the final harvest (whenever that is in your particular zone) before fertilizing.
The reason for that practice is to build up that part of the plant called the fern, which stores up nutrients and energy for strong production results in the following year.
The major job concerning asparagus is weeding the plants, as the spears have no foliage to partially shade the surrounding soil, which will sprout up weeds and other competitors. It also makes the area look pretty sloppy.
Best practices here is to cultivate the area as early as you can in the spring once the plants emerge. Be sure to cultivate very lightly, but continuously, to manage the situation.
In the fall, once the first hard frost comes, cut off the tops of the asparagus in order to help protect it against rust disease, which can lodge in the foliage of the plant.
Mary Washington Asparagus Seeds
How to Grow Asparagus
About the only insect problem I am aware of with asparagus is the asparagus beetle, which are frequently found in home gardens.
You can either pick them off if there aren't that many, or use the appropriate insecticide.
Unless you have a huge asparagus bed, I wouldn't recommend harvesting spears until the third year after the crowns were planted.
That's because asparagus sends out a horizontal root system, and it takes that long for it to be established in a way that won't hurt the plants and overall bed.
Some people say it's okay to harvest you asparagus before that, but I wouldn't try it too much, as it could do a lot of harm.
The reason I say it's okay if you have a big asparagus bed is you could have an expansive one for that very reason, so that you can nibble some of the plants around the edges if you don't have the willpower to wait. That way you would probably hurt only the outermost edge of the bed, which was made with that probability in mind.
Removing too many of the spears will harm the plants for sure, so be careful if you're grabbing a few for an early meal and taste.
Even in the third year, only harvest the plants for about a month, as it's root system is still growing.
At the beginning of the fourth year, from then on you can harvest for a period of about 2 to 4 months, if the season lasts that long in your region.
How to Harvest Asparagus
Look for spears from a length of about 5 inches to 8 inches in length. You can either snap the spears off or cut them. The majority of home gardeners just snap them off.
To snap them off, all that needs to be done is hold the spear near the base of the plant and bend it down. The plant itself will provide the right place to break, as there is fiber up higher on the plant, with the weaker and fiberless part closer to the ground, where it'll naturally break.
If you choose to use a knife to harvest your asparagus, you'll have to place it into the soil at the base of the plant and cut it there.
Asparagus will not last long, so be sure you're going to use it quickly after harvesting it.
The best way to store it in the short term is to treat it as you would when cutting a flower for a vase. Put them in a glass or container and a couple of inches of water in it, and then cover it up with a plastic bag.
Place it in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
These wonderful little asparagus spears are tasty little delights that offer some early food from your garden.
Even though they take patience and work, once they're established you'll quickly forget about all that and and enjoy the annual harvest for many years. That's what it's all about!