Both the ancient Greeks and Romans, who attributed medical qualities such as preventing bee stings and alleviating toothaches to asparagus, have used it for thousands of years. Even the name asparagus comes from the Greek language and means to “sprout” or “shoot”. Today we still cultivate asparagus for its wonderful taste in side dishes and the many vitamins that healthy dish comes with.
Asparagus is different from other vegetables in that it can live for about 10 to 15 years until it must be discarded out of your garden.
Asparagus has wonderful ornamental attributes and can grow in full or partial sun in soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7.0. This makes it a perfect plant to use as a hedge around your garden or yard. Asparagus can first be planted by using seeds, or one-year-old crowns. If using the seeds it will take another extra year until the asparagus can be enjoyed, and they are also prone to sickness at that age.
If you still want to grow your own crowns, plant the seed into a peat pot indoors in early spring, and transplant the seedlings in June. If using crowns, the things to look for are plump, grayish-brown colored, and healthy-looking ones in March or April. Check the roots before planting and remove any rotten ones.
Buy the crowns only from a reputable nursery since the seedlings are sickness prone in the first growing period and you might experience difficulty when brining the crowns home.
Once you have the crowns it is best to look for a site with full sun and good drainage. The soil should be prepared early and enrich it with bone meal, manure, or wood ashes. Dig deep to turn the earth around and make it more light since the plants will be there for about 10 to 15 years.
Remember that the asparagus plants will grow very tall, and will block out the sun around them, so don’t plant anything that requires full sun right next to them. If you want to grow a field type bed of asparagus make 12 inch deep trenches about 15 inches wide and 4 feet between the trenches for the next row of asparagus.
Then use some of the topsoils, mix it with some organic matter, and put back about 3 inches of that mixture into the bottom of the trench. Then set the plants into the trench, about 15 inches apart, and fill in the soil so that the original roots are fully covered, plus cover an additional ½ inch of the crowns. Make sure you firmly pat the earth into shape around the plants, then water everything adequately.
If you have trouble with drainage in your area you can make the trench even deeper (about 19 inches deep) and fill it back up to 12 inches with some sand to help with drainage.
Asparagus needs to be watered regularly about 3 times a week for a month after the first planting. After that, it needs little care except some watering during dry seasons, and you might want to trim some of the bushes for ornamental reasons. Since the asparagus has to establish its spears for that first year so it’s a good idea not to harvest from it that first year.
If you harvest too early the entire plant might have weak growth and the crowns may never recover. In the second year, you can harvest lightly for about 2-3 weeks, and lightly again in the third. Once the asparagus has established itself for 4 years it may be harvested for eight weeks.
Harvesting the asparagus should be done during every day of the harvesting period. Pick the 6-8 inch spears since they will be tender. Harvesting should be done in the spring, but some might argue in the fall is a good time to do so too.
Whatever date you pick this harvesting method will work for either one. If you would like to have the bleached type of asparagus (the white kind for appearance reasons, developed by gourmet chefs around the world) block out the light from the spears with earth so that they don’t start going green.
When you cut off the spears don’t cut them too deep down since you don’t want to injure the next budding spears and after the harvest season allows the asparagus spears to grow. The foliage will appear like a fern which makes it a great ornamental decoration for your garden the rest of the year. If you live in an area with high wind, make sure you either support the ferns with some stakes and strings or plant the rows in parallel with the prevailing wind so they support each other.
After there is frost the foliage will become a little bit yellow. Now its time to cut the asparagus foliage down to about 2-inch stubs before the red berries fall off. Then you should add about 4 inches of compost or leaves over the stumbles to help control the weeds.
If you live in a very warm area don’t let the asparagus have any water in October and November so it will turn yellow and you can do the same thing. In the early winter remove the dried tops before then new sprouts start growing.
Asparagus can be stored by first blanching it in salty water and then freezing it in zip-lock freezer bags. They can be used within the next 6 months. Another preservation method is to can it in air-tight, sterilized containers for up to 2 years.
One of the quickest and best recipes with asparagus is this one; blanch about 12 asparagus spears in slightly salted water, drain and set aside. In a frying pan add 3T of olive oil, 3 chopped toes of garlic, and 3T of ketchup until the garlic is glossy. Then add the asparagus spears, and toss until the spears are completely covered with the mixture. Serve and enjoy!