Gardening with Laurie: Grow you own asparagus
The beautiful spring-like weather we've been having lately has certainly invigorated us gardeners. I think most of us realize that we could still have some cold weather ahead of us, but who can resist being out in the garden tending to gardening chores with this kind of weather?
This is the time to plant that wonderfully delicious vegetable called asparagus. As with all things homegrown, this is one of those crops that taste so much better fresh from the garden than store bought. If you've priced asparagus at the store lately, you'll be glad you decided to grow your own crop. Fresh asparagus is so good that you'll find it hard not to eat each spear as it's picked.
Asparagus is a perennial crop that will grow for many years if allowed to. This means you will need to select a sunny location that has very good drainage that can be specifically used for your asparagus to grow and multiply for years to come. I'd recommend about 25 or 30 crowns for a family of four. Over the years, each plant will multiply as it matures. Keep this in mind when choosing your planting site. Making the bed about four feet wide will allow for easier access.
Asparagus is usually grown from the dormant roots known as crowns. Each asparagus plant will be either male or female. I prefer to grow all male crowns. Female plants spend too much energy producing seeds and not the delicious spears. Soak all crowns in a diluted seaweed solution for about 20 to 30 minutes before planting. Plant each crown about one and a half to two-feet apart. After planting, fertilize with a good organic granular fertilizer and do the same again in the fall.
Spread a good two to three inches of mulch over the bed to help keep out weeds. Weeds would compete with the new asparagus spears and also reduce the yield.
This first year in the ground you will not harvest any of the small spears. Let them mature into large fern like plants. All this foliage is helping young plants take in nutrients that will then make healthy strong roots and spears the next year.
Next January, you will need to cut all the asparagus plants down to the ground. After that, it won't take long for new spears to poke up from the roots. It is recommended to again leave these spears to mature for another year. One more year of growth will allow for an even stronger root system with many more spears. Begin harvesting during the third year.
During each spring, be on the look out for asparagus beetles on the plants. These pests hibernate in the soil until the spears are ready to harvest and then they eagerly emerge from their dormant state. Asparagus beetles feed on the spears and leave their eggs on the plants. During spring and until you have finished harvesting, you can cover the plants with floating row cover to help prevent these pests.
Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.
Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.