By Carol Siddall Master Gardener
I love asparagus. I grew up in El Paso, and my mother had a huge bed of asparagus. We ate it, gave it away and ate more. Back in the late ’50s, El Paso was known for its sand storms, so needless to say, no matter how many times we washed it, there was some grit. I cook it often, only now I have to buy it.
Asparagus is a perennial plant. Some grow from seed, but most prefer to start with one- or two-year-old plants. These can sometimes be bought at garden centers, but always through mail order specialists. Growing your own asparagus is an investment of time and patience that pays off. Plant the root crowns in well-drained soil in a sunny spot in your garden. I have even seen it planted in a flower bed. They need a little attention until they become established, but you should have a fine crop to harvest every spring for many years to come. Be aware, asparagus likes a high pH soil and does poorly if pH is below 6.0, according to Joseph Masabni, Extension Horticulturist. You can add lime if need be.
Your planting area should be accessible from both sides. This way you can get weeds out, which is crucial for success. My mother planted asparagus by digging a trench. An article I read in Country Gardens said the trench should be six inches deep and a foot wide. Add compost and some soil in the trench about 18 inches apart. You can then set an asparagus crown on each mound. Be sure to fan the roots around the mound, leaving the crown about three inches below the original soil line. Fill in to just cover the crowns. Be sure and water it well.
As the shoots emerge, add some soil gradually until the soil level in the rows level with the surrounding soil. My mother would cover with compost.
This is where the patience begins. You cannot harvest any spears the first year! The second spring you can cut a few spears, but no more than six from each plant. Each spear should be at least the thickness of a pencil. Cut the spear at soil level. Cut when they are eight to ten inches tall and while the tops are still nice and tight. You should have a harvest time of about eight weeks. Then stop cutting the spears and let the tall, ferny fronds develop.