Asparagus is a perennial, it grows from Canada throughout southern Georgia. Because it is a perennial it needs a cooler season to grow and a cold winter in order to go dormant. Asparagus does not do well in hot summers and high heat. Asparagus can produce for almost 20 years in the right conditions. It takes up a lot of space in the garden and it can be difficult and slow to get started.
Growing Asparagus on the Homestead
Asparagus: roots or seeds
This perennial can be started from seed or it can be started by roots. The roots are called crowns. They are more inexpensive to purchase but take longer to grow and produce.
One-year-old crowns will produce in 3 years. 2-year-old crowns will produce in 2 years. 3-year-old crowns will produce in one year. When planting crowns you should plant about 15 crowns per family member. Southern planters plant asparagus in the fall, northern planters in the spring.
Choose your site wisely
Since asparagus stays around about 20 years, pick a spot that will be long-term. Make sure the spot is sunny and especially well-drained. Asparagus cannot handle wet ground, it will die. Regardless of whether you plant seeds or roots, the soil should be light, but rich. This is one plot you want to cultivate very deeply! Always start out with an extremely compost-rich soil or a manure-rich soil.
Planting asparagus seeds
Asparagus seeds sprout best when soaked in water that maintains a temperature of 85° to 90° for 48 hours prior to planting. Or by soaking them in warm water until the water cools, and repeating this process three times. The seeds should then be planted about 2″ deep and about an inch and a half apart, in rows, 18 inches apart.
This should be done as early as possible in spring or fall, depending on your climate. The seeds will take about 3 weeks or so to germinate. Thin these plants to about 1″ apart when the plants reach around 2 inches tall.
Planting asparagus roots
Planting asparagus with roots takes a bit more effort on your part. Trenches, 18 inches deep, should be dug in rows that are 4 feet apart. The reason for this deeply dug trench is to allow the roots of the older plant to flourish later on. These roots can spread across and down over 6 feet!
Manure should be placed in the bottom of the ditch, about 6 inches or so deep before planting, followed by more soil at the same depth. The crowns can be placed on the top at 12 to 18 inches apart and covered with 2 inches of topsoil, adding more soil as they grow. It is important to keep the area surrounding the plant’s weed free.
Maintenance of the beds
Fertilizer is very important to asparagus beds. Asparagus that is grown in manure-rich soil will grow better and taste better. Compost is good but manure is definitely better. Every fall, make sure you cover the crop with a layer of manure. In the spring repeat using 3 inches of manure and fertilizing heavy. You can use mulch at a thickness of 3 to 4 inches.
Another material that asparagus benefits from is wood ashes. More seeds can be added in the new growing season if needed or wanted. Most gardeners only replenish the bed every 15 to 20 years.
Asparagus makes seed every summer, the plants then can be cut and hung to allow to dry. Once dry, remove the berries, dry them and store. A special note here is that there are female and male plants. The females are usually spindly like a pencil, and should not be harvested. The males, however, are the fat spears. The females are the ones that eventually produce the seeds.
Harvest conservatively the third year and heavily the fourth year on, this, of course, depends on the age of the root when planted. This will be determined by knowing what you planted and when as stated above. You can begin cutting just before the scales start opening and the stalks are 4-6 inches high and are the thickness of your thumb. You can snap them off or cut them at or below root level.
Early mornings are the best time to harvest asparagus because the hotter part of the day dries the stalks and makes them harder and tougher. Harvest this way every 2 days during the harvest season.
Special note when harvesting
Once you start harvesting asparagus you need to continue. Allowing a stalk to go to seed because it was not harvested will not produce another root.So until the season is complete, all thick shoots must be cut or snapped off. When you stop will depend on when you start. In the northern states, most will stop heavy harvesting around mid-June into early July but might be able to lightly harvest well into the fall.
Even though growing asparagus is more involved than growing most vegetables, it is a crop that doesn’t need to be replanted for 18 to 20 years, provides a bountiful harvest after the third year, and is fairly easy to maintain. Do you grow asparagus in your garden? What types do you grow? Talk about in the comments below. You may want to check out Preparing and Preserving Asparagus for tips on how to preserve your harvest and different ways to prepare it.