Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. Even though I garden for a few years now, I never planted asparagus because I know the house we live in right now won’t be our forever house, and once you plant asparagus, it will grow for years in the same spot, year after year, but you can’t move it and take it with you.
When we bought our 20 acres in the country, I know a bed of asparagus was priority number one. After all, it takes it a couple of years to grow to the point you can harvest it, so I figured by the time we finish building a house I’ll have asparagus ready to harvest.
So this spring (2016) is going to be the second year of my asparagus. I’ll show you how to plant asparagus crowns, we will talk about how to care for your asparagus, and then we will cook it. I think one of the reasons asparagus is one of my favorites is because it only takes a few minutes to prepare it as a side dish.
How to Grow Asparagus
Asparagus is a perennial. Once you plant it it will grow in the same location for 15-20 years. The young spears that come out of the ground are the only part that is edible, you must avoid the little red berries that appear on the foliage later in the season, those are poisonous to humans (we will talk more about harvesting later).
Should I Plant Asparagus Seeds or Crowns?
I say crowns.
You can start with seeds if you want, plant them in a container and once they are a few inches tall transfer them to the garden. It’s no different than starting other transplants like tomatoes or cabbage. Seeds are much cheaper than crowns, however, you are going to need to wait an extra year until you can harvest from your asparagus plants.
I bought my Jersey Supreme crowns from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are delivered in a box, wrapped in white paper. When you get your crowns they are already a year old, saving you the year you would have to wait if you start from seed. It’s better to plant them right away, but if for some reason you are not able to do that you should wrap them in newspaper and store them in the refrigerator.
25 crowns cost $35. Not that big of an investment if you ask me.
Where to Plant Asparagus?
Since this is a perennial that will produce for years, make sure you choose a location that won’t be in the way of other things. Don’t plant it where you plan to build a shed because you won’t be able to move it.
Make sure your asparagus bed is in full sun (8 hours), and a well-drained location. Asparagus will not survive in wet beds.
It is best to send a soil test to the lab (can be done through your cooperative extension) the fall before planting to make sure your soil is not acidic. Best soil pH is 7.0, if your soil’s pH is lower than that make sure to add lime to raise the pH.
Also, before planting add lots of compost, aged manure, and fertilizer, and work it well to a depth of 12”.
It takes some time to prepare a good asparagus bed but I assure you it is time well spent. It’s very hard (if not impossible) to fix planting mistakes after planting and they will result in lower yields.
Asparagus is a bit spoiled, it won’t grow in acidic soil, wet beds, or poor soil, but once it’s established it will grow for years without much work on your part.
Once your soil is ready, dig a furrow 5”-8” deep. This depth is critical. If you plant the crowns too shallow, they will produce a large number of small spears, if you plant them too deep yield will be very low. This is not a mistake you can fix later, so make sure to grab your child’s ruler before you go out to the garden to plant so you can measure the depth of the furrow.
Next, separate your crowns. They will be a bit tangled with each other so do it carefully so you don’t damage the roots.
Spread the roots apart and place the crown in the furrow with the bud upright.
Space the buds of the crowns 8”-14” apart. If you plant more than one row, make sure to space the rows 3′-6′ apart.
At planting, cover the crowns with only 2”-3” of soil and water well. As your asparagus starts to grow and shoots appear, gradually back-fill the furrow around the shoots (don’t cover them). Do this 3 or 4 times during the first year until the furrow is completely filled.
Caring for Your Asparagus
Watering, Feeding, and Weeding – Make sure to keep the bed free of weeds and watered well (about one inch of water a week). The best way to do it is to mulch the bed with hay, straw, or leaves. About 6” or so of mulch will do great.
Asparagus is considered a heavy feeder. I’ve heard of people that grow asparagus in hay and straw and never compost or fertilize because the mulch is gradually breaking down and feeding the plants.
Monitor your plants and if they look like they need a boost you can fertilize the bed. I love to use worm casting or worm casting tea. I won’t disturb the soil, just spread the compost above the soil, maybe mix it in the top 2”, and cover the bed with straw again.
Pest – In my first year of growing asparagus, I didn’t have any issue with pests. There is a beetle that is called the asparagus beetle and can be an issue. The beetle feeds on the spears and overwinter in the bed.
Trimming – every fall, trim your asparagus to ground level. Make sure to remove crop debris because this is where the asparagus beetle overwinter.
Harvesting Your Asparagus
One year after planting, in the spring, you can harvest from your bed for 7-10 days.
Two years after planting your bed, in the spring, you can harvest from your bed for 2-3 weeks.
Three years after you plant your bed and for the following years, you can harvest from your bed for 6 weeks.
It is important to say that you should harvest all spears even thin or damaged ones to keep your plant healthy. Those damaged spears, if left in the ground and allowed to fern can cause delay in spear production and serve as a host site for pests.
You should use a sharp knife and cut the spears just under soil level. Once you have your spears, store them in the refrigerator.
Remember to avoid the little red berries that will appear on the plant later in the season and make sure you educate your child about those. They are poisonous to humans and shouldn’t be picked.
How to Cook Asparagus
You can add asparagus to anything. If you make vegetable soup, throw some asparagus in it 10 minutes before it’s done. If you make broccoli casserole, add some asparagus to it. The thing to remember is that asparagus is not really great fresh from the garden, it needs to be cooked. It cooks very fast though so it’s not a big deal.
Here is one way I like making it…
First, whatever you are going to do with your asparagus, you have to get rid of the woody bottom of the spear. Place your thumbs about an inch and a half from the bottom of the spear and press lightly…
Until it snaps. The woody part is going to the compost pile or the worms, and the top part is what you use.
Set the spears in one layer on a baking sheet…
Add some olive oil, maybe a tablespoon or so and toss them around a bit to coat them.
Set the asparagus in one layer on the baking sheet again and sprinkle with salt, paper, and garlic powder.
Bake in a 400F oven for 10 minutes and that’s it. They are so good this way, of you can also sprinkle grated parmesan on them. An awesome, easy, side dish.
Here is another easy way to cook asparagus…
Start by slicing a few mushrooms and cutting up a few spears of asparagus (don’t forget to remove the woody bottom).
In a pan, heat half a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil…
When the butter has melted and the pan is hot…
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes.
Add the asparagus and season with seasoned salt…
Let this cook, again, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so.
You can add this to pasta, or quinoa. I ate it over brown rice for lunch on Friday. Really, you can’t go any healthier than that… Too bad my desert was a square of Rice Krispies… Oh well.
There is a small price to pay for this goodness. For a couple of days after eating asparagus, your pee is going to stink. This is known as asparagus pee and it happens because the sulfurous amino acids in the asparagus break down into smelly chemical compounds that are airborne. The funny thing is that not all people can smell it. You have to have a special gene that allows you to smell asparagus pee. So if you do smell it, know that you are not only healthy and normal, you are special too!
Until next week…