By Mara Higdon
Asparagus initially is a bit time consuming to grow, but my how tasty. A long-lived perennial, I look forward to it every spring. Mid-March to April is the best time to plant your very own asparagus patch that, with a little care, can supply you with delicious spears for years. The sooner you start your bed the sooner you can reap a harvest.
Begin by locating your patch in a sunny spot with good drainage. Dig a furrow 6″ down and add phosphorus to the soil. This will increase the yields. Scatter your crowns about 1½ to 2 feet away from each other. If doing more than one row, keep the rows five feet apart. Loosely cover the crowns with the old soil. Do not firm the soil with your hands. After a week to a week and a half you should see shoots poking through. But, don’t get too excited! You should not harvest spears in the first year of planting. The first year the plant will grow and build energy stores to produce spears for the second year.
Spear growth is dependent on temperature. At the beginning, spears will grow when soil temperatures are 50°F or above. As the daily temperatures rise more spears will be produced. You will need to check them on a daily basis, possibly even twice a day.
Snap the spears at the base preferably in the morning. They should store well in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. By the third year, you should have 4-6 weeks of spear production and the harvest will continue to increase every year.
After production, the spears will become woody and grow quite tall. The foliage looks like that of a fern. The spears will grow throughout the winter and create a fern-like foliage, some with small, tiny, red berries. These will die back and the energy will be redirected to the crown for the following year. An interesting fact about asparagus: male asparagus plants produce the most spears. Many of today’s varieties that you can purchase are male hybrids that will ensure an increase in harvest over female plants. Some varieties to try are “Jersey Giant” and “Jersey Knight”.
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.