Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Grow My Asparagus

As you may have read in my previous posts, I've decided to put in an asparagus bed. The only reason I haven't done so in the past is that asparagus is a long-term investment. The bed is prepared to last for 10-15 years without cultivation (other than hand-weeding) and typically no harvest is expected for the first two years. I thought about putting one in my first year here, but I decided maybe it wasn't worth the investment; if I had planted it then I'd have been eating it for a year or two already. (I consider this to be an important lesson of homeownership in a down economy: homes are a long-term investment and should be treated that way.) So even though N and I are still both applying for jobs all over the country, I am putting in an asparagus bed.

I'm trying to decide the best way to grow my asparagus. The Maryland extension service recommends:

Asparagus can be planted as one-, two- or three-year crowns (vegetative propagation) in early spring. Plant crowns in rows 18” x 4’ to 5’, or in wide beds of three rows with plants 18 inches apart in all directions. Crowns should be raised slightly above the roots. Remove any rotted roots before planting. Spread the roots out over a 2 inch mound of soil at the bottom of the trench and cover the crown completely with soil. The trench or furrow should not be covered completely (level with soil), but filled in gradually over the course of the growing season to help establish vigorous fern growth. Keep the bed well watered...

Starting plants from seed requires an extra year before harvest. They are slow to germinate and require about 12 weeks to reach transplant size for setting out in June.

On the other hand, Steve Solomon says:

In early spring prepare a four-foot wide raised bed... After making the entire bed fertile and digging it well, make an extra fertile strip down the center of that bed. At minimum, spread a layer of compost or aged manure about an inch thick and a foot wide, running down the center the long way. I would also spread about three quarts (three liters) of COF for every 25 feet (8 meters) of row... Make a furrow down the center of that extra-fertile band of soil and sow asparagus seeds....

He acknowledges this is not the standard advice, but claims that at 6 months the crowns will be "...huge, far larger than the so-called two-year-old crowns for sale at your local nursery."

Steve Solomon's method appeals to me for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I do believe that most plants do much better if planted from seed than when they're transplanted. Also, the description of how to prepare the bed is the best I've seen after reading instructions on several websites and in several books. (There is a page and a half of complete instructions, which you should read if you're thinking about trying this.) He cleverly advises planting "...about the time the apple trees are blooming..." (I love advice like this! So portable from one region to the next - as long as apple trees grow there - and from one season to the next.) And of course, he says I can harvest a few spears in 2012 if I do a good job with them this first year, while most other sources agree that you should wait two years before harvesting anything.

Then again, the price difference between crowns and seeds is pretty small and doesn't justify waiting an extra year if "Everybody Else" (as Steve Solomon refers to them) is correct. I guess you'll have to wait to see what I decide!

1 comment:

  1. My mother put in asparagus a few years ago, and this is the first year she's expecting aspragus. I think I'm more likely visit people when I know they have extra home-grown asparagus sitting around.