Asparagus is a vegetable of the gods. At least I think it is! The delicate spears are a celebration of early spring; they taste of welcome fresh rain and greenness all around. Asparagus is a pleasure to grow and an event on the table either grilled, sauteed, served with lemon and butter or a rich hollandaise sauce. My mouth is watering, and it’s only February. The wait might kill me!
In the meantime there are lots of asparagus-related tasks! Generally people plant asparagus as year old ‘crowns’ – a little like onion transplants. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable crop from the Lily family that can produce crops for 15 or more years. Each crown can produce 1/2 pound of spears per year once fully established. Gauge your plantings accordingly! [>>> this picture is of a 40-yr-old asparagus bed!].
Asparagus prefers a well drained soil with a pH of 6.5-7.5. If the crowns are too wet they will rot so make sure drainage is not an issue. Asparagus is sold as bare root crowns in the spring. Ours arrive in the store usually around mid-February. We don’t ship asparagus crowns so come on in and pick some up!
We also sell asparagus seed for ‘Mary Washington’ an heirloom, rust resistant variety. Asparagus from seed can take 3 to 4 years to mature enough for reliable harvest. Start seed 1/2” deep in 4 inch pots and use bottom heat. Seed may take between 10 and 53 days to germinate. Continue to grow crowns in pots for up to a year or plant out vigorous seedlings in a nursery bed before transplanting one year crowns to their permanent location.
One year old crowns should be planted 12” apart in a trench 6-8 inches deep. The bed should be well drained and in a full sun location. Be careful not to plant the crowns too deep or you can decrease future production. Cover the crowns with soil and tamp firmly without compacting. Mulch well to conserve moisture and limit weeds. Irrigate the first year as the plants get established. Irrigation should not be necessary as the plants mature.
The following spring do not harvest; your self-restraint will pay off in coming years! The next year harvest lightly, 2 to 3 weeks, each year adding a week or two to the harvest window, eventually harvesting for 8 weeks annually. Asparagus beds can be surface amended with well-aged compost and mulched annually to ensure healthy plants. Fertilize in spring and fall with an organic liquid fertilizer or balanced organic side-dress fertilizer.
Leave the asparagus ferns as winter protection over the bed. Cut them back in early spring, around early April prior to the first emergent stalks. In the event of a spring freeze emergent stalks should be covered with newspaper, leaves or other mulch to protect them. Asparagus stalks can tolerate cool temperatures but freezing temperatures can ruin stalks.
The two most common asparagus pests are Common Asparagus Beetle and 12-Spotted Asparagus Beetle. Pick off any beetles you may find, pull off eggs and brush larvae to the ground where they will likely die before climbing back onto the plants.
Enjoy the challenge of asparagus. The few years of establishing these remarkable vegetables are nothing next to the 20 year gourmet garden you will have outside your door!
Written by Sow True Seed Blogger Megan Schneider.