Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I could never even stand to think about until I reached my mid-20′s. My first positive experience with it was actually borne out of polite sacrifice. A few years ago, Rich and I went to visit his Sister and her family (husband and children) in Utah. One evening, the brother in law decided to grill asparagus and salmon (on a cedar plank) for dinner. I was less than thrilled, but it smelled amazing and you don’t turn down food when you’re staying with somebody. So we sat down to eat, and I filled my plate meagerly, taking one or two asparagus stalks just to be polite. I was sold, head over heels in love, and reaching for more after the first bite. I’m not sure if it’s the way he cooked it, or the seasonings he used (olive oil and salt), or what, but I will never look at asparagus in the same way again. So let’s talk about growing it.
Asparagus is a long-lived perennial (if it’s taken care of properly, it can produce for 15 years or more), and it’s usually planted in winter (which, technically, we’re in – though you’d never know it in Southern California with the 80 degree weather we’ve got going on).
To plant asparagus, you buy “crowns” and plant them. A crown is a root ball not unlike the naked strawberry root balls that you can pick up from Home Depot (or any other home and garden center) in late Winter or early Spring. For reference, each crown should be able to produce up to a half pound of spears per year after it is established. If you like pickled asparagus, fresh asparagus and want to can some asparagus to keep in your stores, you’re going to want a permanent bed consisting of several crowns – like a dozen or more. You’re also going to need to live in an area that has a real Winter. Asparagus needs a Winter dormancy time in order to thrive. This is one of the things I’m most excited about in relation to our move to Northern Idaho. Northern Idaho = Winter.
Asparagus needs a lot of room to grow. Within rows, you’ll want to leave at least a two foot space between plants, and between the plants and the edge of the bed. More space is better, and remember that these plants will grow large, and they are permanent, so you’ll want to keep them on the North end of the garden where they won’t shade the other plants in your garden. If you plan to lay down more than one row of plants, give them at least 5 ft of space between the rows.
All of the experts that I was able to find say that asparagus will not start producing for you in the first two years. They don’t mean that the asparagus won’t send up shoots – it will! During those first few years, though, you’ll want to allow the asparagus to grow into full bloom, which you’ll see a great example of in the video below. When asparagus is “mature” (not clipped at the soil level), it turns into a big, beautiful fern-type plant. The leaves and branches on a mature asparagus plant help to recharge the asparagus stalk and help it grow in thicker and stronger the next year – so if you have shoots the first year (and you should, as soon as the weather turns warm), let them grow into ferns, and when they turn brown in the fall, snip them down to the ground, making a solid attempt at not damaging the rootball. They will grow back the second year. Repeat the process again, and in the third year, you can start snipping the shoots when they are young and tender, and eating them, pickling them, or canning them the way you would with the shoots you find in the grocery stores. When the shoots start to become thinner (which they will do during every year when you do not allow them to grow into ferns), let them grow again, without snipping them off and eating them. Just remember to snip them off again at the ground level at the end of the year when they’ve turned brown and are starting to die. Just in case you want a visual aid, I found a really neat video showing what the young shoots look like, and what the mature plants look like. The gentleman in the video does an extremely nice job of explaining how to handle mature asparagus plants throughout the video. It’s fairly short and a great watch, so check it out.
**Asparagus Image by Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons**
**Asparagus Leaves Image by User:SzaterTen plik został stworzony i dodany przez Wikipedystę:SzaterSzater Wikimedia Commons Polska Wikipedia (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons**
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