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Gardening - Asparagus

May 31, 2012

One of the things I most look forward to in spring is the first taste of asparagus.  For 4-6 weeks we eat asparagus for dinner (grilled, broiled or boiled) as well as for breakfast in a spring Breakfast Frittata.  For relatively little work you can plant a bed that will produce these lovely little stalks year after year.

A well cared for asparagus bed can produce for 15-20 years, therefore, choose the site carefully.  They enjoy full sun - 8 hours a day is optimum.

Planting Prep:
If you can, prepare the garden soil in the fall for spring planting by working in a good amount of compost and well-rotted manure.  Test your soil, asparagus does well with a pH range of 6.5 - 7.5.  Amend as needed.

Plant the crowns shortly after purchase to ensure the best success.  You can have success without soaking your crowns, but soaking the crowns in a small batch of compost tea while preparing the beds starts the feeding of the plant.  Dig a long trench for many plants or a single hole for each plant, about 12" deep for the Martha Washington varieties and 6" deep for the Jersey varieties.

Spread a handful of bonemeal and wood ash where each crown will be placed, if available, or a handful of compost.  Space out the crowns 18" apart, carefully spreading out the roots as you place them either in the trench or hole.  Cover each crown with a small amount of soil.

Gradually cover with additional soil as the shoots/ferns emerge.  Keep the bed moist but not wet.

Asparagus does well with parsley and basil.  Asparagus does not do well with members of the onion family.

Add a layer of compost each spring to the bed.  Keep the soil evenly moist and weed free during the harvest season.  Cover the bed with straw, mulched leaves or grass clippings at the end of the season.  In the fall, cut down the asparagus foliage after it has yellowed.

The first year resist the temptation to pick any spears at all.  {I picked a couple.....ok ok, I picked a few}Instead, let them fern out to promote root growth.

The second year, pick spears more than 3/8" in diameter.

A typical harvest lasts 4-8 weeks.

Harvest the spears by either cutting the crowns just below the soil surface with the knife held parallel to the ground, or by snapping the spear off close to the soil.  I follow the cutting method.  Typically, a tight tip {1st photo} means the spear is tender where a loose tip means it may be woody or stringy.  Try to pick your asparagus every other day.  It's amazing how fast they grow.

This year is the first year I've been infested with the asparagus beetle.  They are tiny {about 1/4" long} and a black-blue with yellow spots.  The beetles and their worm-like gray larvae cause the spears to become misshapen as well as defoliate the plants.  Because I hadn't anticipated their arrival, this year I'm choosing to hand pick them daily.  Next year I'll use a floating row cover in the spring to hopefully discourage the pests.

I've had very good luck with storing my cleaned spears in plastic baggies in the vegetable drawer for up to a week.  I've also heard of people storing them upright in jars with a little water in the bottom.

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