by Charlene Burgi
| Asparagus ready for harvest
A recent walk through my garden revealed peach-tree blossoms promising an abundant crop to come. And there in the shade of the peach tree I spotted another harbinger of spring: the tips of asparagus heads randomly pushing up through the soil. There were fat ones, skinny ones, green ones and purple ones. There seemed to be no order to where they were popping up—certainly they were not in the neat rows where I had planted them. However, at least I knew the reason for the various shapes and colors.
Asparagus come in an assortment of varieties. In Marin I was most familiar with the Martha Washington asparagus that we sold at our nursery during bareroot season. After investigating more about this perennial vegetable, I learned the Martha Washington produces both male and female plants. The females produce berries on the fern-like foliage and are not as productive as the male plants. Further investigation found other asparagus varieties that are all male, including the Jersey series—Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and the Jersey King. Being the plant geek that I am, I planted all of them including the Martha Washingtons in a raised planter box. The outcome was a variation of colors, sizes and succession crops. What a treat! Without realizing it, I have prolonged the availability of this delicious vegetable in my garden.
Asparagus are unique plants that require unique planting techniques, as well as some patience. After planting it takes up to three years to allow the root system to mature for harvesting. Long before that step comes the preparation. I knew the asparagus would require their own space as they will take over the garden if left free to spread out, so I selected one of the raised beds in which to confine them. Next, I filled the bed with rich, well-draining soil mixed with compost. I tested the acidity of the soil and adjusted the pH to approximately seven. (A soil tester can provide pH information.) I dug the trenches 12 inches deep and two feet apart, then set the root crowns 18 inches apart in the trenches and covered with two inches of prepared soil/compost mix.
As the new growth appeared, I covered the asparagus with an additional two inches of soil. I repeated this process until the trenches were filled, watering the crowns after each phase of backfilling. Finally, the filled bed was covered with a layer of mulch to retain the moisture, and the crowns were allowed to mature a year or two before harvesting.
Each spring, I fertilize the soil with organic products such as bone meal, blood or fish. In the fall, I cut the fern-like foliage down to about three inches and cover the bed with well-rotted chicken manure shavings saved from the henhouse.
There is so much information out there about asparagus including its history, recipes, growing conditions and varieties. My research unveiled this website
that has more information than most people would care to know about asparagus. But for the plant geeks out there, enjoy!