Asparagus – a favorite among many backyard gardeners because of its delicious young shoots – is among the first crops of the spring harvest.
What we buy in the supermarket are the straight young shoots of the plant. Later in the season, the foliage matures into a feathery, fern-like tip which changes to a golden color in the fall.
Best-suited for areas with cool winters, asparagus is usually grown from year-old plants – or “crowns” – you can buy from the garden center. But you can also grow them from seed.
If you love asparagus and want to grow some yourself, don’t delay getting started. Even with the best of care, an asparagus bed won’t yield its best crop for several years. Once it does, however, the bed will produce an abundance of spears for at least 20 to 30 years!
Here are a few tips to get you started.
First and foremost, check the pH of your soil. Asparagus thrives in slightly acid soil. You’ll need a pH of about 6.5 to grow a healthy crop. Choose a site that has partial sun. Since your vegetables will be in the same spot for years, you need to find a spot where all the growing conditions are right.
Be sure that your garden bed has good drainage. Asparagus does not do well in soggy soil. If you do not have good drainage, consider growing asparagus in raised beds. Make sure you pull all the weeds from the area.
How to Plant Asparagus
The best way to plant asparagus is in a trench. In the spring, dig a trench about 8 to 10 inches deep and 18 to 20 inches wide and work in your compost.
To plant the crowns, spread the roots out on the bottom of the trench. Space plants about 12 to 15 inches apart. This will allow them adequate room to grow. Cover the spears with a couple of inches of soil. Water the plot well.
You should continue covering the plants with soil as they grow, leaving only a few inches of the shoots exposed above ground. Do this until the trench is full.
You can’t really start harvesting spears until the third year after the crowns are planted. Your vegetables require time to establish root systems. This is especially true in the first year of planting.
You can harvest a few spears in the second year of growth. The plants will not have fully matured, so let them grow undisturbed after that initial harvest.
In the third year, start harvesting spears that are finger-sized and about 8 inches in length. You can either snap off the spears or cut them with a knife just below the soil line. Be careful you don’t damage the shoots that are still underground.
You can harvest for about four weeks in the third year. In subsequent years, the shoots will continue to emerge from the soil throughout spring.
When the weather starts to warm, the shoots will begin to grow spindly. Allow the plants to grow their mature fern-like foliage. These will feed the roots for next year’s crop.
Good, Healthy Eating
Growing asparagus requires patience, but the harvest is worth the wait. Once your crop starts hitting its stride, you will be harvesting those lovely green spears for months every spring.
They make for good, healthy eating, too. This perennial vegetable is rich in iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and calcium.