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Tips and techniques to grow asparagus; one of the few perennial vegetable crops!

AsparagusHome gardeners are growing asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) like never before, and discovering that fresh is far superior to anything they can purchase in stores. This perennial plant does well in backyard beds and thrives in raised gardens everywhere in the United States except where conditions are too mild to put the plant into dormancy, such as Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Tender shoots are picked as young spears early 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 years or more and delicious spears are packed with vitamin C, B-vitamins, iron, potassium and calcium.

All the heirloom garden seed offered by Planet Natural is non-treated, non-GMO and NOT purchased from Monsanto-owned Seminis. Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is FREE! Let’s get growing!

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Asparagus

  1. Plant in well-drained, sandy soil to avoid rot
  2. Wait 2-3 years after planting to harvest first crop
  3. Give plenty of space, since plants will grow 4-6 feet tall
  4. For best production, mulch well throughout the year
  5. Perennial that does best in hardiness zones 4-8
  6. Common pests and diseases are aphids, beetles and rust

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 roots 12-18 inches away from fences and sidewalks. Beds will fill in over the years. Many backyard gardeners with space imitations use asparagus as a border or hedge plant. If possible, plant on the north side of your garden to prevent shading other vegetable crops because plants will grow 4-6 ft. tall by the end of the season!

Tip: Practice organic weed control to boost yields. Asparagus does not compete well with weeds — mulch the bed well with organic compost, well-aged manure, leaves or straw and pull any weeds that may appear.

Choosing Seed or Crowns

You can start asparagus from seed, but we recommend using year-old plants called crowns. Choosing crowns means you won’t have to wait as long to enjoy your harvest!

Asparagus is a monoecious plant, which means plants are either male or female. Male plants produce the spears we eat, and female plants produce seeds. Some varieties like Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant produce a majority of male plants, so if you want the most spears per square foot, look carefully when selecting seeds or crowns.

How to Plant

Dig a trench 1 foot wide and 8-10 inches deep. Mix in rock phosphate to improve plant production and vigor. Crowns should be spaced 1 foot apart, and settled in the soil so that the tops of the crowns are 6-8 inches below the top of the trench. Spread the crowns out on the bottom of the trench and cover with 2 inches of soil or garden compost. As the plants develop, fill in the trench gradually with soil but never cover the emerging tips (green part). In other words:

  1. Dig a hole
  2. Add organic fertilizer
  3. Spread out the crowns and barely cover with soil
  4. As they grow, gradually fill in the trench

Note: Studies have shown that the deeper asparagus crowns are buried, the more productive they will be.

Harvesting and Storage

You won’t harvest many spears the first year or two. It’s important to allow the bed to become well 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.

For best flavor, harvest in the morning, rinse and eat fresh. Asparagus will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Band the fresh spears together and stand the bunch upright in a glass or jar filled with 1/2 inch of water. Make sure that the cut ends are in the water and loosely cover with a plastic bag to hold moisture.

Insect & Disease Problems

If the foliage turns yellow and plants becomes stunted, look for ants. They are a sure sign that your plants are being attacked by aphids. Defoliated plants and misshapen young spears indicate asparagus beetle damage.

Asparagus rust may be observed shortly after the cutting season. The spores of rust disease create reddish brown masses on ferns. When these areas are touched they give off a dusty cloud.

Seed Saving Instructions

Female 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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Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.

Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.

Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.

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