How to Grow Asparagus
The coming of spring and early summer means one thing to vegetable lovers—asparagus time. This hardy vegetable, which is part of the lily family, tastes the best when it’s the freshest. As food prices rise, and prices of gourmet vegetables along with them, growing your own asparagus provides a fresh alternative. Not only does it taste better, but it also will reduce your food costs.
Asparagus is viewed as a gourmet vegetable in much of North America because it is only grown in limited regions, and because the cost associated with large-scale production can be high. However, for the small planter, expenses are not much higher than growing other vegetables. Also, asparagus is a perennial, so once the patch is established, it will be ready to harvest year after year.
How to Plant Asparagus
Asparagus is difficult to grow directly from seeds, but you can buy 1-year old asparagus crowns (which are bundles of asparagus roots) from reliable growers. Or, you can order them through several online retailers. Another option is to obtain seedlings from a greenhouse which may be more cost effective if you want to grow for commercial purposes. However, for the small planter crowns are the best option.
You might have your soil professionally tested for nitrogen, potassium and phosphate content. Based on the test results, you’ll be able to choose an organic blend of fertilizer that will work best for your soil. Asparagus grows well on medium textured sandy soil, with a mix of silt and sand.
Asparagus is planted in rows. You want to sow the rows 6 to 8 inches deep and position them to be approximately 4 to 5 feet apart. If you have limited space and plan to hand pick, you could create rows that are 2 to 3 feet apart; however a little extra room is preferable. Each crown should be hand planted with buds facing up, and spaced 12 inches apart. Planting the spears at the correct depth will foster better growth and shape. You don’t want the spears to be too thin or too thick (which can happen when they are planted incorrectly) because they don’t have the same crispness and texture as ideal spears. Ideally, the spears should be approximately 8 inches long with a diameter of around ½ inch.
It takes 3 to 4 years after the initial planting before the asparagus patch will be thick enough to harvest, but once the patch has matured spears will return year after year.
How to take care of asparagus
Asparagus crowns need water just like any other vegetable. Keeping the soil moist is especially necessary because newly planted crowns must establish good root systems, but you need to take care not to over water as well. The amount of water the patch needs depends on your region and soil type, so you may want to consult a local grower for more advice.
Once established, asparagus is a low maintenance crop. It requires little care beyond tilling between rows and harvesting. In addition, it withstands drought well.
How to Harvest asparagus
Harvest time usually begins in early to mid spring and goes until early summer. Hand picking is ideal for this vegetable because you want to be careful to pick spears that are the correct height and width and leave those that aren’t mature time to grow. When you pick the spears, take care to pick low to the ground, but don’t uproot them. You will have several spears that grow from each bundle, and they’ll be ready at different times. During season, you’ll harvest daily.