Who eatS the stalk?
HOW TO PLANT: Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, lasting up to 20 years, so it is important to properly prepare the soil for it. Choose a sunny location. If planting in an existing garden, site the asparagus on the west or north end of the plot, so the ferns (which will grow 3’-4’ tall) do not shade the other crops. Remember – this area will not be tilled again, so do a good job the first time. Work the soil well to encourage deep roots and good winter hardiness. Add compost if necessary; good drainage is important! A raised bed is an ideal spot for asparagus; a 2’x8’ bed will hold 14 to 16 crowns.
Do not plant until the soil temperature reaches 50°; crowns are prone to rot in a cold, damp garden. Dig a trench 6” deep. Add 1-3 lbs. of high phosphorous fertilizer per 50’ of row, on the bottom of the trench before planting. Lay the root in the bottom, with the crown in the middle and the tentacles spread evenly in each direction. Put 2”-3” of soil on top of the crown, and fill in with soil as it sprouts. Space plants 12”-18” apart in the row, and leave enough room between rows for cultivation. Wider spacing between rows gives adequate room for the mature ferns, and helps prevent fungus due to poor air circulation. Water well, and be sure crowns get adequate moisture throughout the season. Once established, asparagus is drought-tolerant.
HOW TO GROW: Add one pound of a dry, balanced fertilizer per 10’ of row early each spring, and again after harvesting (or in June, if the bed is too young to harvest). Leave uncut stems alone, so they can grow ferns and rejuvenate. Cut or mow the ferns down in late winter or very early spring. The ferny stems will be woody, so cut them as near the ground as possible. Otherwise, harvesting the new spears may be painful! Asparagus prefers a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
PESTS & PROBLEMS:
Weeds – The first year, shallow hoeing and cultivating will be necessary. In subsequent years, pre-emergent herbicides can be used to reduce the number of weeds. Do not use salt; it will leach into the soil and damage other crops.
Insects – Asparagus beetles are the most common pest; they are ¼” long and oval-shaped, and are either red-orange with 12 black spots, or mostly black with 6 whitish spots. They can often be controlled by hand-picking the eggs, or by knocking adults into a pail of soapy water. Most insecticides will control them as well.
HOW TO HARVEST: Do not harvest the first year! Roots will yield a light harvest next year. The following year, harvest for 2-3 weeks; then allow the rest of the stalks to form ferns. Established beds may be harvested for 6-8 weeks. Stalks should be cut at ground level when 6”-10” tall, before the tip begins to open up. The diameter of the stalk does not affect the flavor. Harvested stalks will hold in the refrigerator for 10 days if lightly wrapped in moist paper towels.
HOW MUCH TO PLANT: How well do you like asparagus? It freezes well and the quality stays good, so you might want to grow some extra for winter use! An average family will probably want 25 to 50 crowns for fresh use. (One crown will ultimately yield approximately ½ pound of asparagus spears per season). By planting more than one variety, you will extend your harvest period.