There is nothing like a fresh asparagus spear, broken off and munched right on the spot. It is so tender and juicy that you need to plant a generous amount for any to make it out of the garden and into the kitchen at all. The average yield for a 100′ row is 400 spears. It is rich in B vitamins, C, calcium, and iron – a perfect early spring nutrition booster.
The best time to plant asparagus is 3 years ago. But if you didn’t do it then, now is a good time too! Choose your location well because this perennial bed will last 20 years. The plant grows in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It likes rich, well drained soil, the more compost the better.
Transplant crowns in the spring or fall into fertile, well cultivated trenches 12″ wide and 8-10″ deep, in rows 18-24″ apart. Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil. As the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrows with layers of rich soil and organic compost. Mulch well after harvest to keep the moisture in and the weeds down. Don’t cut the fronds until they turn brown in the fall.
If you already have an asparagus bed, side dress it with 2 to 3 inches of compost or aged mulch in fall and again in late winter (before the spears start popping up).
Don’t pick the spears the 1st year, tempting as they are. Let them feed the root crowns and grow strong. The 2nd year you can pick for a couple of weeks but leave the later spears to grow. The 2nd year in the bed is actually year 3 for crowns, since they start out a year old at purchase. The third year in the bed you can finally feast for 4 to 8 weeks. But you still need to leave some spears at the end of the season to grow into fronds.
What is the difference between growing from seed and from crowns?
It takes patience to start a bed from seed (an extra year), but it will save you money and often results in healthier, better producing plants. Start seedlings indoors in February or March. They like bottom heat and a soil temperature of 77 degrees F before sprouting, 60 to 70 degrees after sprouting. Plant them outside when all danger of frost is past. They will be about 12″ tall by then. Keep them well watered all season
Asparagus has male and female plants. The males are more productive because they don’t need to put energy into making seeds. You can tell them apart by looking at the flowers under a magnifying glass. Females have 3 lobed pistols, male blossoms are larger and longer. Some people weed out the females after harvest season and plant more the next year, endeavoring to have an all male bed.
Sow True Seed carries Mary Washington seed online all year, and is now offering Mary Washington asparagus crowns until mid April by phone or in our retail store.
To close, here is a recipe for baked asparagus with balsamic butter sauce to inspire you. Divine!Some information here was gleaned from Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening