Growing Asparagus in a Home Garden
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable crop that grows wild in a large part of the US where it can be found growing along roadsides and creek beds. Fortunately, this delicious, low maintenance spring crop has been tamed for use in home gardens.
Asparagus can be planted as small plants (crowns) or from seed. Crowns are usually sold as one year old plants. If planting crowns, a full harvest can be expected in the third year. If you plant asparagus from seed, it will take an extra year before you can harvest it (full harvest in the fourth year).
Asparagus plants are either male or female. Yields from female asparagus plants are less than those of male plants, because female plants use their energy to produce berries. Males do not produce berries, and so can put all of their energy into making stems.
Mary Washington and Martha Washington are standard varieties that have both male and female plants. All-male varieties include Jersey Giant, Jersey Gem, and Jersey Knight. For something different try a variety that produces purple spears, like Purple Passion.
Well-drained soil with lots of organic matter is a must for asparagus. This can be achieved by planting in raised beds and tilling in compost, manure, or a cover crop before planting.
The spears of asparagus are the tender stems that are harvested shortly after they emerge from the ground. If the stems aren’t harvested, they will grow into light, airy ferns (called “brush”) four to five feet tall. Plants usually produce for ten to fifteen years.
Harvest asparagus spears when they are 5 to 8” inches tall, and their tips are tightly packed. They can be snapped or cut at soil level. As the spears get taller, the tips open up and the spear produces fiber, which makes it tough. (Spear diameter does not affect toughness.)
Spears that are not harvested will grow into ferns and should be allowed to grow during the summer.
Weeds can be a challenge, but heavy mulching will keep beds clean and asparagus growing well.
If all this talk of asparagus has made you hungry, you can order spears from several mail-order companies or check out your local garden center for crowns in the spring.