Across North America, asparagus grows wild along roadside ditches and railway tracks. Although establishing a productive asparagus bed in the home garden requires a lot of work, patience, and perseverance, it is well worth the effort. A well-planned asparagus bed will produce for over 30 years.

An established asparagus bed produces 25-to-30 pounds of stalks per 100 feet of row. Over the years, you will harvest thousands of pounds of fresh, flavorful asparagus to share with family and friends. Select a permanent sunny spot for your asparagus bed.

Asparagus thrives in a full-sun location with fertile, well-drained soil. Organic gardeners recommend asparagus as an excellent companion planting to parsley, pawpaw, tomatoes, rhubarb, comfrey, raspberries, and basil.

In the marketplace, asparagus, a major commercial crop in the United States, Australia, Europe, China, and Peru and is typically one of the most expensive vegetables available for purchase. Grow your asparagus crop for the freshest, organic produce for a pittance of the cost of buying it at the supermarket or farmer’s market.

Asparagus gathered from the home garden is free of the noxious pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, and toxic chemical fertilizers routinely sprayed on asparagus cultivated for commercial production.

There are both male and female asparagus plants. A dioecious plant, they are either solely male or female. Female plants focus their energy into reproduction and seed bearing. The process requires most of the female plant’s energy and the bed sprouts worthless new seedlings that overcrowd the bed.

Innovative horticultural breeding has developed new strains of male asparagus. Male asparagus plants produce thicker, firmer spears. Male asparagus does not present weedy seedling problems. When selecting starts for your asparagus bed, select male Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince, Syn 53, Syn 4-362, UC-157 or Viking KBC hybrids.

Plant the best hybrid available. An asparagus bed remains productive for decades. The new male varieties are cold tolerant and resistant to fusarium and rust, common problems in asparagus cultivation.

Prepare asparagus bed as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. Til the ground repeatedly to break up all dirt clods. Remove all rocks, roots, and weeds. Til again.

•    Cultivated soil to a depth of 12-inches deep.
•    Spread a four to six-inch layer of well-aged herbivore manure (cow, horse, sheep, lama, or goat) on the top of the bed.
•    Cultivate well into the asparagus bed.

Add a four to six-inch layer of landscape sand on the bed. (Do not use beach sand as it contains salt and toxic minerals.) Cultivate, dispersing the sand and manure completely into the soil.

Preparing the asparagus bed is one of the most important steps in successful cultivation. Place the asparagus plants in trench six inches deep and 12-to-18 inches wide.

Space rows 18-inches apart, mounding soil removed from the trenches between the rows. Space crowns 12 inches apart. Each crown presents numerous long, dangling, pencil-sized roots. Fan the roots outward, with crown bud side pointed upward in a centered position, slightly higher than the root spread.

Cover crown and roots with two-to-three inches of soil. As asparagus plants become established and grow taller, gradually fill in the remaining soil. (Asparagus can be started from seed in growing trays or a seedling bed. Plants must wait until they are a year old before they can be transplanted to a permanent location.

It’s wise to wear gardening gloves when planting or tending asparagus. Handing the plant can cause skin irritations in people with sensitive skin.

Asparagus tends to “push-up” or “rise” as the young plants develop. The crowns gradually grow closer to the soil surface. Savvy gardeners place an additional 2-to-4 inches of soil, from between the rows, on the crowns as the plants grow in successive years.

Care

As the asparagus bed develops and grows, plants produce a thick mat of roots that grow horizontally rather than vertically. First-year plants are spindly, becoming stronger and larger in diameter with age. Asparagus beds require substantial weeding.

Carefully remove any invasive plants that sprout up in the bed. Fast growing asparagus spears are sensitive to mechanical injury from cutting tools or cultivation. Injured areas of the plant recover slowly. Asparagus beetles are common pests in home beds. They can be controlled with handpicking.

Asparagus is a heavy feeder. Twice yearly applications of well-aged manure will provide all the organic fertilizer asparagus plants require. Sprinkle the manure on the surface of the soil and water well. Manure should be applied in the spring and the fall.

The fall application encourages the development of the fern-like foliage that provides nutrients to the roots. Asparagus stems go dormant during the cold winter months. Asparagus should be cut to the ground and heavily mulched with a 12-to-18 layer of straw or dried leaves before the first frost.

Harvesting

Asparagus cultivation requires patience. Resist the urge to harvest your asparagus before it is ready. Do not harvest until the third season.

Asparagus (Asparagus Officinalis) is an impressive plant. Provided with near-perfect conditions, asparagus can grow as much as ten inches in a day. A perennial, tender shoots continuously appear over a 6 to 8 week period during late spring and early summer. As the days and nights get warmer and longer, asparagus may need to be harvested daily.

An asparagus planting is picked up to 20 times each season. Warmer temperatures cause asparagus tips to open prematurely which reduces quality and flavor. Harvest young asparagus stalks by snapping them off or use a small sharp knife to cut shoots off at ground level. Do not insert the blade below the soil level. The blade may damage emerging shoots.

Once new shots cease to appear, old shoots will develop feathery, needle-like branched foliage and brilliant red berries (if the plant is female) to provide the nutrients required for a bountiful harvest the following year.

The brilliant red berries are poisonous to humans and pets. By planting all male crowns you will not produce toxic berries in your garden. Because of the repellent, prickly feeling of the foliage, the Greeks stuffed asparagus leaves in home and grain bin holes accessed by mice and rodents. Seeds and the tuberous roots are harvested and dried for use in medicinal powders and teas.

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