Asparagus has a long history going back as far as the first century. There are records of it growing in ancient Greece and Rome. Egyptians over 2,000 years ago cultivated asparagus for medicinal reasons and legend has it that it was so revered they offered it up to gods in their rituals. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used the Persian word "asparag" which meant shoot.
There is good reason that the plant has such a long history, and if you've ever had fresh asparagus I'm sure you'll agree that it's definitely worth adding to your garden. It's a very low maintenance plant and will reward you for many, many years to come, but soil preparation is vital in long-lived healthy plants.
Select and prepare your asparagus bed with care: This crop will occupy the same spot for 20 years or more. It can tolerate some shade, but full sun produces more vigorous plants and helps to minimize disease. Asparagus does best in lighter soils that warm up quickly in spring and drain well; standing water will quickly rot the roots. Prepare a planting bed about 4 feet wide by removing all perennial weeds and roots and digging in plenty of aged manure or compost.
In the old days, gardeners were told to prepare an asparagus bed by digging an 18" deep trench and then backfilling it with a mix of compost and soil. Thanks to modern plant breeders, today's improved varieties of asparagus are less work to plant (6" to 12" deep is adequate) and produce almost twice as many spears per plant. Choose an all-male variety if high yield is your primary goal. The production increases are due to the fact that these hybrids are all-male cultivars, so no energy is wasted producing seeds. Asparagus plants are monoecious; each individual plant is either male or female. Some varieties of asparagus readily available are Jersey Knight, Jersey supreme, and Jersey Giant. They produce all male plants, so they’re more productive.
Starting asparagus from 1-year-old crowns gives you a year’s head start over seed-grown plants. Buy your crowns from a reputable nursery that sells fresh, firm, disease-free roots. Plant them immediately if possible or wrap them in slightly damp sphagnum moss and place in a cool area until you are ready to plant.
Don’t harvest any spears during the first 2 years that plants are in the permanent bed. They need to put all of their energy into establishing deep roots. During the third season, pick the spears over a 4-week period, and by the fourth year, extend your harvest to 8 weeks. In early spring, harvest spears every third day or so; as the weather warms, you might have to pick twice a day to keep up with production. Cut asparagus spears with a sharp knife or snap off the spears at, or right below, ground level with your fingers.
Asparagus is very drought tolerant and can usually grow without supplemental watering because it seeks moisture deep in the soil. However, if rainfall is insufficient when planting or afterwards, it is beneficial to irrigate the crowns. Otherwise the plants will become stressed and vigorous growth will be impeded. Weed control can be accomplished by hand hoeing and cultivating during the planting year.
Keep your asparagus bed clean and healthy and it will reward you for many years!
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