Growing Asparagus

AsparagusOne of the few perennial vegetable crops! Home gardeners are growing asparagus virtually everywhere in the United States, except Florida and the Gulf Coast, where conditions are too wet or too mild to satisfy its dormancy requirements.

Tender shoots are picked as young spears in the spring. Later in the season the foliage matures into a delicate fern which changes to a golden color in the fall. Plants can be productive for 15 or more years if given proper care.

Site Preparation:

Provide as much sun as possible and a sandy, fast draining soil for the plants. Poor drainage will cause the roots to rot. Keep the roots 12-18 inches away from fences and sidewalks. It loves plenty of water. Beds of asparagus will fill in over the years. Many gardeners with space imitations use asparagus as a border or hedge plant.

Tip: Practice organic weed control. Asparagus doesn’t compete well with weeds, so mulch the bed well with aged compost, leaves or straw, and pull any weeds that may appear.

How to Plant:

Dig a trench 1 foot wide and 8-10 inches deep. The bare root plants should be spaced 1 foot apart, setting them in the soil so that the tops, or crowns, of the roots are 6-8 inches below the top of the trench. Spread the roots out on the bottom of the trench and cover the roots with only 2 inches of good, rich garden soil or compost. As the plants begin to grow, fill in the trench gradually with soil, but never cover the growing tips (green part). Does this make sense? Dig a hole, spread out the roots, barely cover them with soil, when they begin to grow, fill in the trench gradually. Asparagus requires organic fertilizers with high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Harvesting:

You won’t harvest any spears for the first three years. It’s important to allow the bed to become established before harvesting. In fall or winter, when the plants turn brown, cut all the foliage back to the ground and cover with a thick layer of mulch. When the plants are ready to harvest, select spears that are 6-8 inches tall and at least 1/2 inch thick, with tightly closed tips. Cut close to the soil line.

Insects and Diseases:

If the foliage turns yellow and its growth becomes stunted, look for ants on the plant. They are a sure sign that your asparagus has aphids. Defoliated plants and misshapen young spears indicate asparagus beetle damage. Asparagus rust may be observed shortly after the cutting season. The spores of the rust disease create reddish brown masses on the ferns of the plant. When these areas are touched, they give off a dusty cloud.

Seed Saving Instructions:

Female asparagus flowers produce round, reddish, 3/8 inch berries containing six seeds. Birds find the berries tasty and often damage crops that are not covered. Harvest the ripe berries before they drop from the plants. The fruits can be rubbed over a screen to free the seeds, which are then washed in water. Dry the seeds away from direct sunlight for several days before storing.

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