Asparagus is one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables you can grow. At my house, the asparagus harvest will soon be drawing to a close. Some of us are rather happy about that. We’ve been eating asparagus at least once a day since the end of April. Steamed, parboiled, sautéed and roasted. In omelets, pasta salads, stir-fries and soups, but mostly on its own with olive oil, pepper and sometimes a little balsamic vinegar. Leftover asparagus makes a delicious lunch snack. Giving away extra spears makes friends very happy.
Asparagus is one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables you can grow. Plant it once and you can eat from the same plot for the next 25 years. So if you’re planning to stay put for awhile, and you have a sunny, well-drained spot that gets plenty of moisture, consider planting some asparagus. Planting is a job for very early spring, when the clusters of asparagus roots, called crowns, are available. Summer is the right time to start planning where your bed will be located, and start preparing the planting area.
One thing asparagus plants will not tolerate is weeds, so preparing a weed-free planting bed is essential. A raised bed is ideal. Crowns should be planted 6 to 8” deep, about 1½ feet apart. This means eight crowns will fit in a 3×6′ bed. If you plant all-male, hybrid asparagus, such as Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant, rather than the quaint but underwhelming variety Mary Washington, eight crowns will produce an adequate supply of asparagus for two adults; 16 crowns will ensure a bountiful crop with lots to share.
Growing asparagus requires patience. For best long-term results, don’t harvest any spears until year three. This gives the roots a chance to get well-established before you start depriving them of their tender shoots. When it is time to begin harvesting, cut spears at soil level and continue harvesting until shoots get to be as thin as a pencil. Then stop harvesting until next year and let the rest of the spears develop into mature “fronds”. The plants will use this foliage to produce energy and feed their roots for next year’s harvest.
Apply a granular organic fertilizer to your asparagus bed in early spring and again in mid-summer. Add a couple inches of compost in spring and fall. If the soil is acidic, add some lime. Mulch the soil surface with shredded leaves or straw to retain moisture and minimize weed growth. Cut fronds to the ground in late fall and destroy. This will help keep asparagus beetle populations in check.
For more information, check out the guide to growing asparagus from the University of Missouri Extension Service.
–Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply