After a winter of eating squash from the closet, green beans from the freezer and sauerkraut from the crock in the basement, we look forward to picking fresh veggies in spring. There are a few early favorites that usher in the season. Parsnips that have overwintered in the ground, and fiddleheads picked from stream beds (until our patch gets going) are early delights. As delicious as these are, they can't compare to the joy of asparagus.
Here are a few things we’ve found out about asparagus; a gathering of info from many different sources in addition to our own experiences. We suggest contacting your local extension service for tips on growing it in your area.
Asparagus, according to Wikipedia, is a member of the lily family. The name comes from the Greek word ‘asparogos,’ meaning shoot or sprout. Asparagus is one of only a few truly perennial vegetables and can yield spears for 15 to 20 years or even longer, although the spears do get smaller at the plants age.
Besides being one of the earliest veggies for harvest each year, asparagus is one of the earliest vegetables cultivated by humans. Record has it that the Macedonians were growing it around 200 BC. Egyptian tomb drawings include pictures of it. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered it a cure for nearly every ailment. As Romans conquered most of Europe, they brought asparagus with them, and asparagus emigrated to America along with European settlers.
Asparagus can be started with either "crowns" or seeds. The "crowns" are usually one or two years old and are the way most asparagus beds are started. The one year-old crowns are less likely to suffer transplant shock. Seeds take longer to produce spears but are said to be more resistant to diseases that may be introduced into the bed from crowns.
When we started our patch, we had the soil tested. The results showed that the ph was too low, so we added some lime to bring it up to the specified level of around 7.0. Potassium was also indicated so we added that too. A sandy soil is said to be best, as well as a sunny place and fortunately our chosen site met these two requirements.
We'll be expanding our garden this year and expect to be starting some new crowns as well as seeds. Planting asparagus crowns is a process that takes some time. After our first try, we found, the following year, that the tops of the crowns were too close to the surface. So we pulled them out and planted them all over again. Kind of a setback, but we do want to have some to eat someday.
Planting starts with a trench. The width needs to accommodate the roots - set the crown on the ground and spread the roots out around it to be sure the trench is wide enough. The roots will grow laterally, not downward. The depth of the trench finds variance amongst sources. The minimum recommendation is 6 to 8", but as much as a foot or more is also indicated. A call to your local extension should resolve what is good for your area. The plants should be 2 to 4 feet apart in the row.
Once the trench is excavated, create a shallow mound of dirt for each crown. Set a crown onto each mound, fan the roots out in all directions, then backfill the trench with 3" of soil. The hole will be completely filled later. Water thoroughly. After about 6 weeks, when the plants begin to sprout, add another 3 inches of soil. The plants will go dormant in the fall. Then, if theres dirt left over, it's time to fill in the remainder of the furrow.
In the next post i'll finish the asparagus tale- lots more to tell! -G.H.