The appearance of asparagus at your local farmers market is a sure sign of spring, and a tasty one at that. Although a rather mysterious vegetable in terms of how it grows, growing asparagus is relatively simple and will provide you with superbly delicious spears for up to 20 years if cared for well.
Asparagus loves well-drained soil and requires a fair amount of sun, so choose a south facing location that receives at least 8 hours of sun per day. Amend your soil so that it is around the ideal pH of 6.5-7.5, and add any nutrients that your soil may be lacking by adding compost or organic fertilizers. Also aim to choose a spot free of perennial weeds, or make sure to clear them out before planting. Asparagus plants need ample room, so make sure you have enough space according to the number of plants you are putting in the ground. You can definitely plant asparagus in raised beds if need be.
Asparagus is most commonly planted as crowns, which are essentially one-year-old dormant plants that have yet to produce those tasty spears. Dig a trench for your crowns that is about a foot wide and 8 inches deep, and layer in some well-rotted compost. Plant your crowns about 1 foot apart, and deep enough that the bud tips appear at ground level. If you are digging more than one row, space the rows about 1 ½ feet apart and stagger the asparagus crowns. Water well immediately after planting.
Hand weed around your asparagus crowns to protect the shallow roots, and mulch them lightly to prevent further weed growth. After 6 to 8 weeks of growing above ground, allow the last shoots to fully grow into frondy foliage, which you can support with bamboo stakes and plant tape. This foliage is essential for feeding the crowns, so don’t get rid of it until later in the season, around October.
This is where patience comes in: Although tempting, asparagus should not be harvested at all during its first year of growth. In the second year, try to harvest spears sparingly once they reach between 4 and 6 inches in height. From the third year on, feel free to harvest as many spears as appear in the first 6 weeks. For following years switch to harvesting for the first 8 weeks, as your crowns should keep producing for up to 20 years. If you live in a mild climate, note that you may have to harvest spears almost every day to keep them from going past.
Unfortunately, asparagus beetles can be a nuisance in certain areas. Pick the bright orange and black beetles and larvae off when you see them, and make sure to burn off dried stems in the fall. Slugs and snails are also pests that tend to gravitate toward asparagus tips, and are especially active after rainy weather. Pick slugs off at night if possible, or use copper pest control methods.
Now, it's time to enjoy that homegrown asparagus (which is always so much better) in your favorite spring recipes.
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