I’ve gotten several questions lately about growing asparagus.
Asparagus is usually the first vegetable to make its appearance in the spring, and for locavores, it often means the season of canned and frozen is O-V-E-R. In my yard, we are still eating fresh kale, but really that means I have successfully lapped the year!!! Fresh food all year long — that’s pretty cool! (Of course, it got to be pretty slim pickens there in January when it was just puny broccoli and kale).
So, asparagus. It’s a pretty amazing crop — a well planted and nourished asparagus bed can live upwards of 30 years! The asparagus stalk is actually the spring shoot of the plant — just like other plants start to grow in the spring, asparagus sends up shoots that just happen to be delectible!
Planting asparagus is not difficult, but it must be done in a very precise way. First, you dig a trench, about 12-18 inches deep.
Down the middle of the trench, you add back a hump. On the hump, about 12-15 inches apart, you plant the crown of the asparagus. An asparagus crown looks like a miniature janitor’s mop, but all dried up. Not pretty.
You plant the crown so the “legs” go down the sides of the hump. You then cover the crowns until about an inch of soil covers them. Then you wait for the asparagus to catch up. A couple of weeks later, the asparagus will start to peek through — throw more soil on top. Do this again and again (let’s say three times), until the dirt is now even with the surrounding soil.
Here’s the frustrating part – now the asparagus gets to grow into a bush. And you just have to look at it. In the fall, the bush will die back. You then cut it down to the ground. In the spring, you will have little asparagus shoots. They look odd, and a bit phallic… but hey, it’s spring!
Generally, during year 1, you can harvest the shoots for about two weeks, then you have to just let ‘em go. Firstly, they get woody. Second, and more importantly, the plant needs to grow. In year two, you can harvest for three weeks. Year three? Six weeks. After that, you can harvest all the asparagus you want – but stop when the spears start to get woody – that’s when it’s really time to just let the bush develop.
It’s important to note that asparagus are heavy feeders — so basically every time I feed anything in the garden, I give some to the asparagus — and still, I’m not sure they are getting enough.
When I decided to put in asparagus, I planted them outside our bedroom window for several reasons — one, they are a really pretty plant in the summer – light and leafy and nice. Second, it would be easy to see the shoots peeking up – and that is exactly what happened this year. I was standing at the bedroom window looking out at the garden – and THERE IT WAS! And THERE! And THERE! I now have a spear popping up almost daily. You can almost watch it grow – I have had shoots grow 6 inches in a day! Pretty amazing.
The other thing that I decided when I put in the bed was to spend more money and buy two year old crowns. It meant that I could speed up the harvest calendar by a year. I planted my bed in 2010, and last year, we harvested for three weeks. This year, it’s a six week Asparagus-palooza!