What could be a better sign of spring than seeing the first spears of asparagus peaking out of the ground in your garden? I love it freshly steamed with a touch of lemon. Asparagus should never be over cooked so you can get the most value from this nutritious vegetable. I believe it has the best flavor and the most nutrients if it is cooked a bit al dente. It has been studied and found to have so many health benefits and should be included in every ones diet. Asparagus is packed full of antioxidant vitamins A, B, C, K. It has has been found to have these healthy properties: has anti-aging functions, it can help protect against cancer, reduce pain and inflammation, may prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, reduces the risk of heart disease, and it is full of folic acid which can help prevent birth defects.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and comes from the Greek word meaning “shoot” or “sprout.” It is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean.
This is a very easy vegetable to grow once it’s established. Follow these planting tips to have one of first signs spring at your dinner table this season.
Plant asparagus in early spring, after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees F. There is no advantage to planting the crowns earlier in cold, wet soils. They will not grow until the soil warms and there is danger of the plants being more susceptible to disease if crowns are exposed to cold, wet soils. Plant the asparagus where it will not shade the other vegetables and will not be injured when the rest of the garden is tilled. Planting it in a separate bed is best.
Make sure you pick an area that has good drainage. Asparagus roots do not like waterlogged soils that will lead to root rot. It prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.5 and will not do well if the pH is less than 6.0. There are soil test kits available or you can call your county extension office to find out how to take and send in a soil sample.
One of the best varieties to plant is an all male variety called 'Jersey Knight'. This variety produces spears only on male plants. Seeds produced on female plants fall to the ground and become a seedling weed problem in the garden. Female plants also have to expend more energy to produce the seeds that decreases the yields of asparagus spears on female plants. The all-male hybrids out-yield the old Mary Washington varieties by 3 to 1. Dig a trench no deeper than 5 to 6 inches. You don’t need to plant them deeper as it doesn’t produce any higher yields and may even decrease the yield. Mix the soil with good organic planting mix or compost. Then use a higher phosphate additive that can used in the garden not on the lawn, like bonemeal to get the roots off to a good start. Spread the roots out over the bonemeal. They should be placed 12-18” apart in rows 3ft apart. After planting, you can gradually cover the crowns with a few inches of soil as the asparagus grows, until the trench is filled in. Or you can fill it in all at once but you must make sure you don’t compact the soil in that area or the asparagus will be severely reduced.
Do not harvest the asparagus during the first planting year. Let the spears grow into ferns which produce food for the plant and move it down to the crown for next year's spear growth. This will also help it to get a good established strong root system to give you higher yields.
Weeds can be a problem in the asparagus bed. You can control weeds by mulching with 3 or 4 inches of grass clippings or straw. Pull or hoe annual weeds out as soon as they appear. Weeds can harbor insect pests and compete with asparagus for moisture and nutrients. One organic product “Concern Weed Prevention Plus” contains corn glutten meal which works as an natural pre-emergent to keep weed seeds from germinating and can be put down immediately after planting. A product that is safer to use on perennial weeds than a chemical control is “Weed Pharm” it is a non-selective natural herbicide that you spray directly on the weed.
Asparagus is fairly drought tolerant and can usually grow without extra watering because it finds moisture deep in the soil. However, you should water the crowns after planting and during dry spells. Otherwise the plants will become stressed and may produce as grow as well.