by Neil Moran
This perennial vegetable features attractive, feathery fern-like foliage that can grow to 3 feet tall. Time and effort is required to prepare the asparagus bed, but if done properly the bed will last for years.
In the North plants should be set out in early spring. In the South, set them out in the fall because it can be so hot in the summer that the young plants may not survive. Asparagus does well in most types of soil, but it should be well drained. Place plants 2 feet apart with 5 feet between rows. Once the bed is established, which takes three seasons, 25-30 crowns will produce enough asparagus for most families.
Dig a trench 12-18 inches deep and the length of your row. Add 6-7 inches of aged manure or compost or a little peat moss. Sprinkle on a dusting of balanced fertilizer and add a couple of inches of soil from beside the trench. Mix well.
With the mixture you have made, build up mounds at the bottom of the trench about a foot apart. Set each crown on top of a mound and drape the roots down the sides. Growth will be slow if roots are placed flat.
Fill the trenches making sure the crowns are at least four inches below the soil surface. The soil level of the row should be a little below the rest of the garden. When the shoots grow up, fill in the trench with a little more soil to give the stalks good support.
First Year Care
Place a thick mulch around the small spears after they come up to keep the weeds down and hold in moisture. Let the new plants grow through the summer and fall without cutting shoots or ferns. Let the tops die down in late fall without interference.
Second Year Care
This spring and every spring hereafter you need to cut the old ferns that died over the previous fall and winter and clear them out before the plants begin to grow. Also remove any mulch that's left in the bed. Fertilize and cultivate well between the rows. Be careful of spreading roots. Mulch around the spears when they are tall enough. Don't harvest this year.
Choosing Plants Begin with two-year-old roots ordered from a quality garden catalog or garden supply store. One-year-old plants will be cheaper but these younger plants often don't survive transplanting, and your first harvest will be delayed for a year. The very patient gardener may want to try starting seeds in special beds and transplanting them to their permanent home when they are two years old.
To Store Asparagus Stand the spears upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom. Keep the jar in the refrigerator.
Third Year Care
Repeat the process of cutting back the ferns, removing the mulch and fertilizing. Harvest some spears by cutting with a sharp knife just below the soil when they are 6-8 inches tall. Cut only the ones that are as thick as your finger and let the skinny ones grow into ferns.
Each year you will need to leave some spears to grow into ferns. After the last harvest, pull all weeds and fertilize the bed. Mulch heavily to prevent the growth of weeds.