Growing asparagus

by Jennifer McDonald on April 6, 2010

It's almost asparagus season! Photo credit: wikinfo.org.

One of the many reasons that Spring is such a great time of the year is that it is asparagus time.  Asparagus is one of those veggies that I only eat in season – a period of time that is far too short in my humble opinion.  During these coming weeks, I will be serving my family those distinctive green spears often, much to my husband’s delight and my children’s disgust.

Asparagus is an amazing vegetable and a sure bet nutritionally. Just six spears come with 2 grams of fiber, 10% of daily vitamin C, 20% of your daily vitamin A, and 30% of a day’s folic acid — and all for only 20 calories.

The ancient Greeks thought that asparagus could cure toothaches and prevent bee stings and there are those people today who ascribe this vegetable with aphrodisiac qualities. Whether or not that’s true is unknown, but feel free to conduct your own experiments.

Best of all, asparagus is ranked as one of the most consistently clean vegetables because it rarely contains pesticide residues.

There are two ways that I usually cook asparagus:

  • Steamed and then served with a little butter and salt.
  • Lightly roasted and served with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.

Either way, don’t overcook asparagus!  You want it to still have a little crunch when you bite into it.

Asparagus in the garden. Photo credit: ediblelandscaping.com

If you don’t have asparagus in your garden yet, this month and next are the time to plant it.  This is not a vegetable that can be grown in a container, so you will need to give it a dedicated space in your garden.

Growing asparagus is quite easy, but does require a little patience.  You can start with seeds, but most gardeners plant crowns (dormant roots) because you can harvest a year earlier.

Where you buy your asparagus is entirely up to you, but I have started two asparagus beds using crowns from Edible Landscaping in Nelson County.  Their plants are always healthy and reasonably priced.  I’ve had good luck with “Jersey Knight” which is a newer hybrid that is long-lived and disease resistant.

To plant asparagus, dig a trench that is 12″ deep and 12″ wide.  Set trenches 3-4′ apart.  Set the crowns about 18″ apart and spread the roots out evenly.  Asparagus is a heavy feeder, so backfill the trench with compost or well-rotted manure, then add more dirt.  Water well and then keep the asparagus well-watered throughout that first summer, but don’t drown it either.  Spread about 2″ of mulch over the area to suppress weeds.  For some reason, asparagus doesn’t tolerate weeds,  but a good layer of mulch should mostly keep them out.  After that, it will be easy enough for you to pull out the odd weed that does appear.

That’s it.  You’re done.  Now all you have to do is wait.  And wait and wait. And then wait some more. The plants need a few years to grow and spread.  You can harvest a few spears after one year, about half the year after that, and then all of the asparagus every spring after that. The plants multiply like rabbits (but not in an invasive way) and an asparagus bed can last for for years, possibly even decades.

About a dozen crowns will feed one adult well during a season; two dozen crowns will net you enough for a family or to freeze some asparagus for later eating.

The great thing about asparagus is that after your initial planting effort and then patience while the plants get settled, your reward will be years and years of fresh asparagus.

For more information on asparagus, I recommend this article at Organic Gardening and this one at Mother Earth News.

Author’s note:  I do not work for Edible Landscaping, nor was I asked to mention them in this article.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly null Garrett April 20, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I just found your blog and love it! We planted our asparagus two springs ago. We didn’t harvest any last year and are only breaking off a few spears this year. It’s killing me just to watch it grow and not eat it all!

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Don in VB February 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm

What needs to be done to prepare a bed in the fall and the spring. My bed is approaching its first anniversary and I am not sure what to do. The growth from last year has browned during the winter

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Jennifer February 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

You need to remove the dead growth entirely; don’t even leave it in the bed to decompose. Last year’s asparagus could harbor asparagus beetles, so cleaning out the bed at the end of the growing season is important.

Beyond that, weed thoroughly since asparagus doesn’t compete well with other plants. Add compost and use a rake mix it in. Don’t roto-till, since it will disturb the asparagus roots.

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