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Grow Asparagus—The Perennial Vegetable!


Question. I planted asparagus in a raised bed two years ago. I did not harvest the first year, have lots of ferns still standing, and hope to enjoy my first spears this spring. Do I need to do anything special to the plants? And what should I do over the winter?

---Tuna Bob in West Chester, PA

Hi Mike! I would like some tips on planting an asparagus bed this spring. Hope I am not too late. Is it OK to use corn gluten when I plant to prevent weed seeds from growing? I would like suggestions on amending the soil as well; should I use composted horse manure? And I'm told my soil is acidic. Should I lime to make it more alkaline?

---Michele in Locust Grove, VA

Answer. It's not too late at all, Michele! One of the firm rules of gardening is that you shouldn't work wet soil, and your Washington, DC area had a very wet winter; so you might actually need to cool your heels a bit. Some people even wait until the end of summer to plant, when the soil is generally drier and easier to work. (The asparagus doesn't care; Spring or Fall, its all the same to the spears.)

Completely composted horse manure—no heat, no odor—is one of the classic components of an asparagus bed. However, recent findings indicate that asparagus actually craves potassium and phosphorus as much as nitrogen, so feel free to substitute high-quality compost for the manure. No matter what, sprinkle liberal amounts of rock phosphate or bone meal in at planting time. And asparagus thrives all the way from an acidic 6 to a neutral 7; so if your soil's pH tests in or near that range, leave it alone

Most important is to begin with a bed that drains exceptionally well and is filled with rich organic matter. So remove all the soil down to a foot deep and use a garden fork or pry bar to bust up the bottom of the bed for drainage. Then fill it about half way back up with a mixture of the best of the excavated soil—no big clumps of clay—and compost or composted manure.

Mix the rock phosphate or bone meal in and lay your crowns on top of the amended soil. The crowns look like octopuses; if they're dry, soak them in water for an hour before planting. Then cover them with a few inches of organic matter and soil, but not all the way to the top. Fill the rest in gradually over the course of the season until the bed is level with the surrounding soil. Trust me on this one.

Oh and yes, feel free to dust a little corn gluten every time you add soil to prevent weed growth; weeds are this tasty treats' biggest foe.

Neither of you should harvest any spears the first year. Let them all blossom into those lovely asparagus fronds. Gardeners in the South can harvest some spears the first year without decreasing yields; the warmer the clime, the safer this is. If in doubt don't. Harvesting first year spears in the North can cut future production almost in half.

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