Asparagus is a springtime perennial vegetable and a favorite for many home gardeners.
The stalks of asparagus grow upward from the roots or crowns in mid-spring, and by mid-summer asparagus will produce light, wispy ferns that stay on the plant until the fall.
After a few hard frosts the tops of asparagus will die back, and during the winter asparagus lies dormant in the earth waiting for spring to start the growth cycle again.
When properly planted and cared for asparagus will dependably produce every year. A well-tended asparagus bed will last between 4 to 15 years and sometimes much longer. A lot depends upon the variety that is planted, and the cultivation practices and soil conditions. I’ve heard of asparagus beds that were over 100 years old.
In the home garden most asparagus are grown from “crowns” and not from seeds.
In botany, crowns are the section of a plant where the root of a seed plant joins to the stem section. A single asparagus crown will produce about ½ /lb. -1 lb. of spears after 3 or 4 seasons. For garden planning purposes, 12 -18 crowns per person for seasonal consumption is considered adequate for most families and a 100′ garden row will yield approximately 80 – 100 lbs. Plan to plant twice as much if you intend to freeze or can asparagus.
Planting asparagus from seed is very time-consuming due to the special care that the young plants require. When planting from seed asparagus will not be ready for even a minimal harvest for at least 3 or 4 years.
The modern hybrid varieties of asparagus are best for most home gardens and small farms. Jersey Knight, Jersey King and Jersey Supreme are good dependable hybrids.
They produce all male plants and waste no energy producing seed.
Asparagus planted from crowns will begin to produce the second year after planting and can be very lightly harvested. Some gardeners will wait until the third year before harvesting to insure that the plants have fully matured.
Asparagus should be planted after the garden soil has warmed up to about 50°F.
No good comes from planting in wet or soggy soil. Asparagus will not grow until the ground has warmed up and planting in wet, cold conditions increases the chance of crown rot.
Ideally asparagus should be planted in its own bed. If it is not possible to plant them in a separate garden bed, asparagus should be planted in the west or north side of the main garden so that it will not shade other plants during the summer.
And for gardeners who like to plant by the moon, asparagus is best when planted during an increasing or waxing moon and when the moon is in the sign of Cancer.
If a Cancer day cannot be chosen, Scorpio is the next best day, and then Pisces.
Last spring I planted a bed of asparagus by a method I had never used before.The new method was much faster and easier than the “traditional way”.
With the traditional way of planting asparagus a deep ditch is dug, crowns are carefully placed on little humps of dirt called “saddles” and then the ditch is slowly filled in over the course of the summer. The traditional way of planting is very time-consuming and can be a real back breaker if you have hundreds of feet of asparagus to plant.
My new way is so fast that it lends itself to small commercial production. I was pleased with the results from the new planting method and I wanted to share the method with you so you could try it this spring if you like.
Dig a long ditch about 6 – 8 inches deep.
In the bottom of the ditch sprinkle 1 lb. of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate)
or 2 lbs. of 0-20-0 (superphosphate) fertilizer for every 100 feet of row.
By doing this phosphorus is made immediately available to the crowns. If you skip this step your asparagus will not produce as well and the stalks will be spindly and weak.
Now comes the unbelievable easy part – walk along the row and toss the crowns into the ditch on top of the fertilizer keeping the crowns about 9″ – 12” apart. It doesn’t matter how the crowns land in the ditch or if they make direct contact with the fertilizer. The fertilizer will not burn the crowns.
Next lightly, but completely fill in the ditch – but do not pack the soil down hard. If you compact the dirt too much the emerging spears will have to struggle to get to the surface and to the sun. We want to make it easy for them.
Keep the ground moist and well-watered and new growth should be seen within 2 to 3 weeks.
If you are going to plant more than one row, maintain wide rows and space the rows 4′ from center. Keep the young plants very well weeded during the first summer.
In the fall don’t be in a hurry to cut back the top ferns, but instead allow the asparagus to naturally die back from frost. If too much foliage is removed from the top of the plant, the roots are prevented from storing as much energy and food as possible and this interferes with new stalk production in the following spring.
In the past I have always managed weeds by the application of salt, but that method is no longer recommended.
The salt will not hurt the asparagus (asparagus is native to coastal areas and loves salt), but the salt can alter the soil and harm surrounding vegetable plants. The standard practice presently for weed control is in the early spring or late fall burn off the weeds with a small controlled fire before the spears begin to emerge.
In the spring once the soil temperature reaches around 50° F asparagus spears will begin to appear. To harvest the spears snap them off at the base when they are about 6″ to 9″ tall. Don’t cut them below the ground-line or you might injure other buds that have yet to emerge.
What I do to keep my asparagus healthy is every other year or so, I top dress my asparagus bed with some type of animal manure – cow, chicken, sheep, rabbit, pig or whatever – while there is still snow on the ground. As the snow melts the nutrients from the manure are broken down and pulled down into the earth.
I also top dress the asparagus bed with wood ashes from my stoves every winter. Asparagus uses a lot of potassium and wood ashes are very rich in it.
Superphosphate fertilizer is applied only at planting time and never afterward.
And just in case you’re too shy to ask…
Asparagus causes a characteristic pungent odor in some people’s urine very shortly after they consume it. The odor can be noticed within 15-20 minutes of eating asparagus and is known as “asparagus urine”.
Asparagus urine studies were conducted awhile back and it seems that possibly everyone produces the chemical components that make for smelly asparagus urine, but not everyone can smell it. Science has come to no agreement on this issue.
What researchers can agree on however, is that the ability to smell the odor in asparagus urine and the ability to produce asparagus urine seem to have a genetic component. And if you don’t have the gene to smell asparagus urine consider yourself lucky. Enough said.