Sunday, April 18, 2010

Growing Asparagus

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called Growing Asparagus (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"This gourmet food has been prized since the Romans and is still regarded as one of the great delicacies of the vegetable garden. In the spring, the asparagus is the first to emerge from the ground and much better tasting when grown in your garden and fresh picked than what you buy in the store. Growing asparagus is a long-term project for your garden, as it will take 2 to 3 years after planting before you can harvest those delicate and tasty shoots. On the positive side, once established the plants continue to produce for 25 years or more, and sometimes up to 50 years. The harvest season is also quite short: six weeks and the plant is not very productive for the amount of space it takes in your garden. That is why it is the most expensive vegetable to buy.

Plant asparagus roots in a sunny location. The soil should be well drained, light, rich in organic matter and deep. The pH should be as close to neutral as possible. The better the soil, the better the production will be. Set out roots at the end of the garden so they are not bothered in the future when working in the garden. Wet spots can rot the roots of the plants and if this is your problem, use a raised bed to grow the roots. It is important to prepare the soil before planting as this vegetable is in the ground for a long time and you will not get a second chance to mend the soil later. Compost and animal manure are the best fertilizers for this crop and should be applied to the garden each spring prior to the new shoots coming to the surface. Mycorrhizae fertilizers are best when added to the soil in the spring and fall, so look for Garden or Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Mycorrhizea will help make a bigger and stronger root system. Asparagus plants grow tall so be sure to keep them out of the wind.

When you plant asparagus, purchase 2 year-old roots from your garden center and look for male roots. Male roots are more productive and larger shoots will develop from those roots. One year-old roots will save you money but you will have to wait one additional year to pick. The spring is the best time to plant asparagus and I suggest that you call your local garden center and have them call you as soon as the roots arrive.(We have one year roots available at Skillin's as of this writing!) Roots in a poly bag that have been in a heated building tend to dry up fast and take longer to get established. A bundle of fresh root packed in peat moss is better and less likely to have a mold problem like plants in a poly bag. This is the time when paying more for a product is worth the investment. You will have this plant in your garden for a long time, so begin with quality.

Dig a trench 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Make a small mound of soil that you have conditioned in the center of the trench every 18 inches. Spread the roots around the mound of soil so the crown is 2 inches higher than the roots. Now cover the roots and crown with 2 to 3 inches of conditioned soil, firm them in place and water well. As the plants begin to grow slowly, fill in the rest of the trench until even with the rest of the garden. Fertilize spring and fall with Garden or Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Use limestone, wood ash or Mag-I-Cal to keep the soil sweet and neutral. Once the shoots are up and growing I like to spread 2 inches of compost over the entire planting bed for weed control and to help prevent moisture loss during the summer. (Excellent advice!) Water 2 times a week to keep soil moist but NEVER wet. You will enjoy the foliage in your garden and remember the foliage makes energy for the plant to make it stronger and more productive for next year." ( I am not a huge fan of the foliage as I find the wispy asparagus foliage yellows as the season wears on. I guess some yellow tones are better than others!)

Special thanks to the Paul Parent Garden Club!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 18, 2010

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