Many people grow fresh vegetables for their health and enjoyment. After all, gardening is a rewarding hobby. Still, veteran vegetable sowers could tell you how time-consuming it is to plant and replant the garden plot each spring, year in and year out. Planting a delicious perennial vegetable like asparagus is one solution to this problem.
Growing your own asparagus is a lengthy endeavor that will reward you richly. Asparagus beds, if properly planted and tended, will produce asparagus for two decades or longer. The stalk's longevity as a perennial makes it a great investment, and you get the satisfaction of harvesting your own food every year. If you plant enough, you might even find you save money on this veggie, which can be costly in the produce isle.
Asparagus doesn’t tolerate any weeds, so preparing a deep bed or raised garden box with ideal conditions will be one of the most crucial steps. Since asparagus plants live for such a long time, enrich their plot with plenty of nutrients right from the start. The plant especially loves phosphorus, which can be found in aged manure, bone meal, as well as a stand-alone mix-in. Remove all weeds from your soil, even if this takes several months or longer. When you mix in compost and organic matter, let the soil sit for a few months to help the nutrients sink in. Finally, asparagus will need to be planted six to 12 inches below the surface, so a shallow bed won’t cut it.
Asparagus seeds should be cared for indoors until they're tall enough to transplant. This might take a few months to a year. Find a date about two weeks after your last frost and count backward 12 to 14 weeks. This is the date when you should plant asparagus seeds indoors in compostable pots. Use a sterile soil mix and keep the small pots in a sunny window while they grow. Using a bottom heater can help aid germination, after which the temperature of the heat can be lowered. About 77 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable until the asparagus sprouts. Then, lower to 60 to 70 degrees.
Transplants should be about 12 weeks old. When your transplants or purchased sprouts are ready to go into your prepared bed, make sure you prepare them for this new climate by keeping them in a cold frame or putting them outside during the day for at least a week before putting them in the soil. Once you’re ready, dig a trench six to 12 inches deep and make or purchase a compost tea — water in which compost has soaked. Let the transplants sit in the compost tea for about 20 minutes before planting them at least 18 inches apart and two to three inches deep.
Asparagus needs about one to two inches of water per week, especially in its first couple of years. Helping the new plants retain water is important; mulching the surrounding area helps keep the soil from drying out. You can mulch with compost, leaves, grass clippings, or straw. After the first few years, your asparagus bed won’t need such regular watering and you can reduce the frequency to every couple of weeks.
Don’t harvest your asparagus for the first year. It will need time to get stronger and develop a solid root system. If you planted one-year-old transplants, you can harvest them in the next year, but only a few for a week or two. Harvests should start small and then increase every year as your yield also increases. Spears that are six to 10 inches tall but haven’t bloomed should be cut at ground level. In your second year, harvest for a few more weeks and a few more spears every day. By your third or fourth year, you may harvest every day for several weeks in the spring.
Asparagus beetles are the most common pests that bother this vegetable. They can be removed manually and placed in soapy water to kill them. Brush the stalk to remove any larvae or eggs. The best way to avoid asparagus pests and defects is to buy transplants from a reputable source and avoid planting sprouts that seem weak or unhealthy.
The most common asparagus type is the Mary Washington variety, popularized by its appealing flavor and hardiness. The Jersey Giant variety produces high spear yields — it is a solely or primarily male plant, meaning it uses the energy that would usually be used for seed production, to produce more spears. The stunning Purple Passion asparagus grows sweet, nutty, purple spears.
Breaded asparagus can be dipped in all sorts of sauces, and herbs can be added to enhance the flavor. Oven-roasted asparagus with mozzarella cheese and garlic is a great hors d’oeuvre or addition to light meals like salads. Another great oven-roasted option involves nothing but a baking pan, a dash of salt, and a splash of lemon at the end. This fresh method of preparation can lighten up heavy meals like steak.