Asparagus is great whether it's from the ditch, woods, or garden. In my house it's a kitchen staple. My family bought our little 65-acre hobby farm in November of 2004 and started our asparagus patch the following summer. The bed didn't produce the five-pound cuttings back then like it does today. Here are our secrets to great success in growing asparagus at home:
The first step is acquiring a starter root ball. These are available at most garden stores. A key thing to remember when picking out a root ball is the bigger the ball, the bigger and more fruitful the bed will be. Some plants have a way of complimenting others when inter-planted. A few that like to be planted next to asparagus are tomatoes, basil, and parsley. The basil and parsley thrive off the nutrients produced by asparagus whereas the tomatoes help to repel bugs from the asparagus bed.¹
Planting the ball is similar to planting a tree - dig a hole deep enough to cover the roots. Once the hole is dug and the ball(s) are about to be placed in their respective places, the hole needs to be filled with organic matter. This can be a few different things ranging from old manure to composting. Add water to the organic matter to create a soupy substance. Continue to cover and water as needed throughout the season.
Different seasons mean different levels of care for the asparagus bed. In late fall, the "fronds" will need to be cut down. A frond is a seeded out stalk that is brown and dry. Be sure the frond is brown and dry before removing to ensure regrowth the following season. The bed will need to be covered with straw for protection from varying winter elements.
Spring and summer months bring about more responsibility. Once all straw is removed and the bed is cleaned, it is time to dig a trench around the bed to prevent weeds from overtaking the bed. If desired, the trench may be filled with the winter straw for mulch. Other organic matter previously listed will work as well. Depending on if the bed will be all natural or to be labeled as organic, it is recommended not to use grass clippings that have been sprayed. Sprinkle wood ash throughout the bed to prevent bugs as well as nourish the soil. Diatemaceous Earth is another bug repellent and insecticide that works very well without damaging the plants.²
If all steps are followed correctly, not only will the spears start rapidly growing - so will the weeds! Make sure to weed regularly and cautiously. Don't be too agressive when weeding as adolescent spears may be damaged. This goes for harvesting as well. Some spears grow very close together and might be cut by accident with the targeted spear. The proper technique for harvesting asparagus is going as deep as you can and cutting the spear on a diagonal. A spear that is 3 to 4" tall or more is eligible for cutting. Keep in mind the longer the spear, the woodier the harvest. The way to identify a woody spear is snapping the spear in half and discarding the bottom half. If the inside of the top half is hollow, the entire spear is woody (example is pictured above). Being woody isn't a terrible thing but it will make the cooked asparagus a bit chewy.
Once the asparagus is harvested and gathered, bring it in the house to rinse and serve as desired. A personal favorite of mine is frying the spears in oil using a cast iron pan with garlic and beer seasoning from Cabelas. There are endless ways to prepare asparagus. Good luck with starting a bed and producing wonderful, nutritious asparagus for years to come.
¹Source: Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte, ²To learn more: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html
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