By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
I love the simple things in life and I really like the simplicity of real food.
Nothing beats getting up in the morning and deciding what is going to be for breakfast, lunch, and dinner solely based on what is in the garden not what is on sale at the store.
But before you grab your seed catalog and start ordering asparagus crowns, lets talk about growing it right.
Asparagus is a hardy, perennial vegetable that is grown in a bed. It can be started from seed or crowns. But unless you are a purest, I would recommend using male crowns. This type of crown uses its energy in spear production instead of seed production.
Once you order your crowns, it is time to prepare the bed area. Asparagus likes a well-drained soil that has a neutral pH, which is between 6.5 and 7.5. Asparagus also likes a lot of phosphorus and this can be dealt with through the application of weedless compost.
To begin the asparagus bed process, one must first remove all the grass and weeds. Once this is done, cover the soil with dark plastic or Mylar mulch. Using either one of these techniques will heat the soil up and sterilize it.
After a week or so, remove the covering and place 2-inches of weed-free compost on top of the soil. Till the compost into the first 6-inches and then begin to dig a trench. This trench will need to be 4-inches deep and 10-inches wide.
Now that the trench has been dug, it is time to plant the crowns. Lay the crowns in the trench making sure that they are spaced 15-inches apart. Backfill the trench with the remaining amended soil but be careful not to step on the soil.
Guarding against weeds is very important and should be dealt with from the very beginning. Anytime a weed appears, it should be removed and disposed of in the trash. While this may seem a little anal, you should only have a weed problem in a bed that is one to two years old. After that, the asparagus will be big enough to shade and control a majority of the weeds.
Asparagus needs to be put to bed in the fall to early winter. This is done by cutting off any fronds that have appeared and placing them in the compost bin. Then, apply 1-inch of weed-free compost or manure. Top this layer with 3-inches of straw, leaves, grass clippings or non-treated sawdust.
When spring arrives, apply 1-inch of weed-free compost to the top of the bed. Repeat the compost and mulch cycle described above every year.
To create a special treat, grow white asparagus. This is not a special variety but instead spears that have had their sun exposure reduced. This is done by covering up the spears when they break ground with a box or dark colored plastic, such as a row crop cover. Covering the asparagus will prevent the spears from going through photosynthesis and in doing so turning white.
Asparagus has two pests and this includes the Common Asparagus Beetle and the Spotted Asparagus Beetle. Both of these can be taken care of by simply keeping the asparagus bed clean, removing fronds when they appear and inviting Lady bugs into the garden space. You can also use the trap crop technique and pick the beetles off by hand. If you choose this later approach, pick the beetles off in the morning. The cool temperatures of the morning makes flying for these beetles difficult and in doing so make them easier to pick.
Asparagus is a wonderful treat and can easily be grown in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 8. But do not despair if you live in a different zone. Asparagus can be grown in colder climates with the application of more mulch.
So until we blog again, asparagus beds properly designed will provide every gardener with an ample supply. Just treat them with care and be aware that their longevity will span a 15-year love affair.