by Gene Henson
One of the more interesting things to grow in your kitchen garden is Asparagus. It’s early maturing with many health benefits; a low calorie vegetable with lots of antioxidants. A perennial, Asparagus plants last a long time, usually succumbing eventually to Fusarium Root Rot. It’s been cultivated for thousands of years, and was brought to this country by the early colonists. It’s native to Eurasia, and some say it grew wild among the dunes along the Mediterranean Sea.
The big disadvantage of growing Asparagus is that it can take up to three years before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, as it were. Asparagus plants are not grown from seed like other plants. What you do is buy year old root crowns from your local garden center. There are many varieties to choose from, but the best are hybrids. You can plant them right now, depending upon the condition of your soil. Asparagus thrives in sweat, sandy soil, with a high PH. Our soil around here usually is 5.5 or 6, but it’s best to have it tested so that you know exactly where you stand. I’ve mentioned the importance of a soil test before, and I truly can’t emphasize that enough. Best eight bucks you can spend on your garden. Call the New London County Extension Center (860.887.1608) for more information.
Asparagus crowns are planted about 8 to 12 inches apart, in a trench 12inches deep. Do not fill in the trench, but cover the crowns with an inch or so of soil. When the new shoots pop up, follow them with more soil until the trench is full. Do not attempt to harvest during the first year. The plants need the ferns, which is what the spears turn into once they mature, to bulk up the root crowns. Some people advise against harvesting the second year as well. You can, but do not take all that the plants give, maybe ten percent. After the second year, you will enjoy Asparagus for five to six weeks every spring.
Once the harvest is over, allow the ferns to grow out. They are the engine providing the crowns with energy to produce next year’s harvest. Even though they are not producing all summer, it’s important to maintain good weed control. Anything you can do to encourage good fern growth means better harvest next year.
Cut worms can be a problem. They larva over winters and they awake hungry. They chew off the spear just as it comes out of the ground. If you see that, dig down a little and you will find the little bugger.
Gene Henson is a University of Connecticut certified Advanced Master Gardner.