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Anne K Moore
Photograph Anne K Moore

Some foods just naturally make me think of spring. Asparagus is one of those early delights. Right now, the supermarket has it in abundance, but at a premium price here in the south. The price seems high until I stop to think about how asparagus has to be grown. This could be the year I find room for a tender plot of green shoots. ‘Martha Washington’ is an old standby but I might try the all male ‘Jersey Giant’. It is supposed to produce a bigger crop.

If you want to grow your own asparagus, don’t forget to prepare the soil before you plant. Since asparagus is a perennial, it will come up year after year if you start it out correctly. This is the only opportunity you will have to get the soil right for the life of the patch. Dig copious amounts of well-rotted manure or compost into the soil, and then check the pH, which should be 6-8. Sandy, good draining soil with plenty of organic matter is the ideal planting medium.  

Asparagus roots usually come to you bare. Soak them in a bucket of water while you prepare their bed. Don’t let them dry out. Dig trenches 36 inches apart using your asparagus roots as your guide for the depth.

After your trench is ready, build mounds in the center, about 18 inches apart, and fan your asparagus roots over the top like an octopus. Plant them with the crown just barely under the soil surface. Fill in the trench carefully and water it well to settle out any air pockets. Let the asparagus grow and establish for a year before you harvest any shoots.

You can only harvest the spears for 4-6 weeks in their second year. In their third year, you can harvest for about 8-10 weeks, until the spears get very skinny. Then allow the tips to grow up into a ferny cloud. This growth nourishes the roots for the next spring’s crop and cannot be skipped or skimped. Lay a thick layer of compost on the bed every fall after you have cut back the withered stalks.

Be sure to plant asparagus where it will get plenty of sun and where you won’t be tempted to dig up the patch. It can be left to grow for years to come.

In a couple of years of growing your own, you can put your asparagus budget money into other early spring treats. A strawberry patch, maybe?

Posted April 19, 2013

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