Asparagus

Asparagus

AsparagusAsparagus is a much more versatile vegetable than you would think. There are people who eat it raw, but it is easier to digest when it has been cooked. Try it steamed, boiled, grilled, or roasted as a side. Then try out some of the easier ways to use it. Stir-frying adds a whole new dimension to this vegetable and makes it a great addition to a main course.

Even after the asparagus has put out fronds it still has uses. Some people like to snip off a few fronds to add to flower bouquets. Don’t take too many, though—the asparagus plant needs those to manufacture food for next spring.

 

Preferred Conditions

  • Plenty of room to spread out.
  • Winters cold enough to freeze the soil.
  • Full sun, although some shade is acceptable in hot weather.
  • Well-drained soil (not absolutely necessary).
  • A pH between 6.5 and 6.8.

 

AsparagusPlanting

  1. Choose your planting location carefully, since asparagus is a perennial.
  2. Work some sand into your soil if it is very heavy.
  3. Remove all rocks and tough roots that might get in the way.
  4. Dig in aged manure or compost the fall before you plant.
  5. In the spring, smooth the ground out.

 

Next you will have to decide whether you will start with seeds or crowns. The seeds cost less and will be more productive in the long run. However, if you plant crowns, you will be able to start harvesting your asparagus sooner.

 

To start seeds indoors:

  1. Soak seeds in water overnight.
  2. Plant in light potting soil 1/2 inch deep about 10 to 12 weeks before last spring frost.
  3. Keep warm (77°F) until germination.
  4. Keep the young plants between 60° and 70° from then on.
  5. Transplant when about 12 inches tall, ideally four weeks after the last spring frost.

 

To start seeds outdoors:

  1. Soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting.
  2. Plant 1/2 to 1 inch deep and three to four inches apart, about two to four weeks before the last spring frost.
  3. Be patient—it may take a month before you see any sprouts.

 

To plant crowns by the trench method:

  1. Plant crowns immediately after receiving them.
  2. Dig a trench about 12 to 15 inches wide and 18 inches deep.
  3. Fill the bottom with enough compost, aged manure, leaf mold, or peat moss that the crowns will be 8 to 10 inches below the surface of the ground (try varying the depth for a staggered harvest).
  4. On this new layer, make small mounds 18 inches apart, one for each crown.
  5. Place each crown on its own mound with roots pointing downward and draped over the mound.
  6. Cover crowns with two inches of topsoil.
  7. As they grow, keep adding an inch or two of soil until the trench is filled in.

 

To plant crowns by the easy method:

This is recommended for loose, fertile soils only.

  1. Plant crowns as soon as you receive them.
  2. Push a spade into the ground as deeply as you can.
  3. Shove the handle forward to create a wedge-shaped hole.
  4. Hold the handle in position to keep this hole open.
  5. Spread out the roots of the crown and plant it in the hole three or four inches from the surface of the ground.
  6. Pull out the spade and let the soil fall back into place over the crown.
  7. When all the crowns have been planted, rake the bed smooth and mulch.

 

AsparagusCare

Asparagus is not a very demanding vegetable. As long as you keep the weeds at bay, it will almost take care of itself. Mulching helps with this, as does a shallow hoeing in the spring. Another common practice is to sprinkle pickling salt onto the bed until it is barely white.

Water deeply if dry weather sets in. Apply manure or compost spring and fall, and consider adding new soil to the beds in the spring since the crowns work their way closer to the surface over time. The Kansas winter is warm enough that the asparagus will easily survive with nothing more than a covering of hay.

Gardeners have different opinions on when to cut back asparagus tops. If asparagus beetles and other pests are a problem for you, cut down the tops as soon as they have completely died back and dried up. For those of you who are relatively pest-free, you may want to leave the tops standing over the winter to collect moisture. Consider giving your chickens access to the beds—they’ll huddle in the shelter of the dried fronds and fertilize the soil while they’re at it.

Preparing an asparagus bed for the growing season is simple, too. When the weather warms up, pull back some of the mulch so that sunlight can warm the bed. Leave a little mulch to keep the weeds back and to keep the ground moist. You may want to gently hoe the bed once before the spears emerge. As the spears grow, you can start to put some of the mulch back.

 

Pests and Diseases

  • Asparagus beetle.
  • Asparagus miner.
  • Grasshopper.
  • Crown rot.
  • Fusarium wilt.
  • Rust.

 

Harvesting

Only harvest from mature plants, those in their third growing season. (If you planted two-year-old crowns, this means that you can take a few spears—but only a few—the year after planting.) Wait until the shoots are at least four inches tall. A spear that is ready for harvest will be less than an inch around and will have a neat, tight tip.

How much you harvest will depend on the age and health of the plants. Go easy on young plants, maybe only taking a couple of spears at first. In future years, gradually step up your harvest. A healthy, mature asparagus plant can readily contribute to your table for up to eight weeks. Early on, you may only be able to harvest every few days. As the season progresses, you may find yourself harvesting every day to keep up with the new growth.

Asparagus knives exist, but are not necessary. Any clean, sharp knife can be used to harvest. Cut at the surface of the soil in a slanting direction.

At some point, you will need to let the plants rest and grow fronds to supply themselves with food for the winter and following spring. If the growth starts to slow down, do not cut any more asparagus. You should never harvest asparagus for more than eight weeks per season.

 

AsparagusStorage

Asparagus is best when fresh. If you must store it for a short time, it should be all right for a few days in the refrigerator in a vegetable drawer with the humidity set to high.

If you must store your asparagus for a long time, cook, then freeze or can.

 

Saving Seeds

  1. Cover asparagus plants of different varieties or separate by two miles to prevent cross-pollination.
  2. As berries form, cover them to protect them from birds.
  3. Harvest ripe berries before they fall off of the plant.
  4. Rub berries over a screen to free seeds.
  5. Rinse in water until seeds are clean.
  6. Spread out to dry out of direct sunlight for several days before storing.
  7. Store for up to five years.

 

Helpful Resources

Asparagus Factsheets
Only a general bulletin available at this time, but it does contain more information on pests and diseases.

 

Complete Series

VegetablesVegetables