Asparagus, Part 1

Larry G. Field
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Courtesy photo                        The author of ‘Gardening at 46 degrees,’ Larry Field passing on his knowledge to grandson Haiden.

Courtesy photo
            The author of ‘Gardening at 46 degrees,’ Larry Field passing on his knowledge to grandson Haiden.

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Asparagus as a topic has many points to consider and is therefore a large topic. I will keep my discussions far more brief than I would like because few people grow it. Things to consider and discuss include the facts that it exists as a domestic commercial crop and a garden crop and also exists as feral plant life and that it is a perennial.

Planting/purchasing generally includes a choice of many varieties each in different stages of development generally including seeds, one & three year plants. I would purchase starts in reverse order to this listing to accelerate a usable crop, 1st choice, three yr old plants, followed by 1 yr then seeds. I would consider the one yr plant to be the poorest “bang for the buck” because it is planted by the grower in the spring, has had one summer to become a “one year” or, more accurately, one season, plant and then is set back considerable by digging and storing “bare rooted” until the following spring. The one summer old plant is set back by handling and therefore is little advanced over a seed, but it is advanced.

Planting instructions will accompany your starts. Follow the instructions. Commercially grown plants are set deeply into the soil, usually having six or more inches of soil over the crown of the plant. Seeds are generally planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, then transplanted after development. My typical asparagus bed is about the size of a sheet of plywood with slightly crowded plants. When starting, I dig the “bed” down about one foot, scatter the removed dirt into the garden. I then add at least 3 inches of manure into the 1 ft deep bed and till the bottom of the bed to mix. I cover the tilled manure mix with about an inch of sand to minimize rapid

filling of the bed during construction but adding enough sand

(asparagus likes sandy soil) to protect the plant roots from direct contact with the manure in the mix. Place the roots and slightly cover (~3”) with a 75-80% sand/ 20-25% aged manure mix. As the

shoots emerge, continue to fill (sand/manure mix) the bed around

the developing shoots until about 2 inches from the soil level surrounding the bed. Leaving the bed two inches below the level of

the surrounding soil will allow space to totally flood and saturate the bed on occasion. Attempt to finish your bed with 4-6 inches of

covering above the plant crowns.

If starting with seeds I do as above but slightly shallower, ending with 3-4 inches over the asparagus plant crowns. I start the

seeds in a depressed level bed and fill as they grow to eliminate

the need for later transplanting of the “developed” plants. Shallow planting tends toward thin spears.

I never harvest the first year. When I begin harvesting, I select only the spears of sufficient, store sales, size/diameter. I harvest

primarily in April and May. I harvest sparingly from June 1-10 and do not harvest later than June 10. No plant will do well if you continually cut it off! I allow June 11-fall for the plants to regenerate & increase in size.

I use a hinged tool such as a pruner, side cutter, scissor, etc.

to cut the spears flush with the ground. Using a hinged cutting

tool minimizes damage to adjacent and pre-emerged shoots. My harvesting is greatly controlled by the weather. A hard frost will kill asparagus shoots. You can cover the plants/bed or you can harvest them based on an adverse weather forecast. If a hard frost is forecast I will harvest all shoots 3” or taller. If weather is good I will harvest shoots 6” and taller

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