April is an excellent time of year to start planting asparagus.
Now, growing asparagus is not a task for the impatient. You will not get a crop the first year. You won’t get a crop the second year, either. However, those succulent stalks are certainly worth the wait. Plus, once they start producing, you will continue to get harvests for many years.
Asparagus was offered to the Egyptian gods over 5,000 years ago, and people have been enjoying it ever since.
Unlike many of our vegetable crops, asparagus grows from crowns, which are food storage rhizomes. The familiar spears, left to their own, will open up and grow into ferny branches that can reach 4-5’ in height. Asparagus leaves are actually modified stems, much like conifers. The root system is adventitious. Yellow to greenish-white flowers emerge and become red berries when fertilized.
DO NOT EAT ASPARAGUS BERRIES. They are poisonous to people.
How to grow asparagus
Before you starting planting asparagus, give the site some thought. Asparagus plants may take a few years to really start producing, they will continue to produce for 20-30 years or more! Asparagus loves raised beds in full or partial sun, and lots of compost-rich soil. Asparagus does not compete well against weeds, so be sure to keep the asparagus bed weed free. Mulching will help a lot.
One year old crowns are the best way to start. Dig a trench 12” deep in the bed and place asparagus crowns 18” apart. Spread the roots out, cover with soil and water, but do not fill in the trench. Watch for new growth. As shoots begin to appear, add more soil, repeating until the trench has been filled. If you want to grow asparagus from seed, the seeds must be germinated between damp paper towels and then gently transferred to soil.
Keep the asparagus bed consistently moist, but not soggy. While spears may appear the first year or two, force yourself to ignore them. Allow the plants to go through their annual cycle. This will help them develop a strong root system, necessary for long term production.
Asparagus pests & diseases
Asparagus is susceptible to Fusarium wilt and asparagus rust. Remove and discard diseased shoots. Aphids can also become a problem. To get rid of the aphids, simply spray the plants with the hose.
By the third year, you should be able to harvest some, but not all, of the spears. They taste the best when they are 5-7” tall. Cut or snap the spears off at or near ground level. By late spring or early summer, your asparagus harvesting season is done. Allow any spear that come up to complete their normal cycle.
If you want white asparagus, you will need to blanch them. That means covering them with soil, newspaper, or some other material that will halt photosynthesis as they grow.
If you end up with a bumper crop of asparagus, you may be tempted to eat it all. That might be a bad idea. Eating a lot of asparagus can make urine smell pretty awful. Instead, the shoots can be pickled and stored for several years. They taste particularly good in a Bloody Mary.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!