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Attempting to Ensure Late Season Success


Attempting to Ensure Late Season Success

Q. Kristen in Springfield Delaware County ("just outside of Philadelphia") writes: "Is it too late to plant asparagus? I'm making a new raised bed 12 inches deep, two feet wide and 16 feet long. And can I interplant strawberries in the bed? I've been reading conflicting information: some sources say to plant nothing else with asparagus and others say to just plant the asparagus deeper and the strawberries shallower.

"If it is too late to plant asparagus and/or strawberries this year, is there anything you would recommend planting now so the bed doesn't lay fallow? I also read not to plant any tomatoes, zucchini or cucumbers in a bed that will later contain asparagus. Is that right? Thanks for your help!"

A. I think you'll find that the asparagus decision has already been made for you. Many traditional sources of live plants and seeds whose inventory often lasts into July were sold out months ago, so it's unlikely that you'll find asparagus crowns for sale this season. The novel Corona virus we are all fighting has created a huge generation of new gardeners, whether out of boredom, fear of food shortages or boredom.

Or boredom.

Anyway, you'll probably have to wait until next season to purchase the plants that will eventually give you an annual harvest of that peculiar Spring perennial that makes your pee smell weirdly funny. And that is a good thing, because it gives you time to think about varieties.

Many people wish to activate the Wayback machine and grow one of the original open-pollinated heirloom strains of asparagus like Martha Washington, which requires extra work in removal of the berries that form.

It is much advised, especially for beginners, to grow one of the more modern hybrid varieties, the names of almost all of which begin with the word "Jersey", like Jersey Knight. (That's right Kats and kittens; we may never know which variety is the original "Jersey tomato", but The Garden State has a virtual lock on asparagus.)

Anywho, you would not be remiss to review your options, choose a variety and place an early reserve on an appropriate number of crowns for NEXT Spring. Spring is pretty much the only time the crowns are available; and the plants need time to settle in, grow over the summer and absorb solar energy for edible spears to appear in the following seasons.

And be aware that asparagus is like a fruit tree; you need patience and an understanding that the first couple of years come with training wheels. You can taste a single spear or two of your pee-grass the first year, and harvest a FEW spears in year two, but you have to wait until year three to pluck away with relative abandon.

Note: "Crowns" are what we call the octopus garden type roots. You bury them in super-rich soil in the Spring (here's where you can safely use a lot of that composted horse manure you always call in about, true believers!), and then you wait. In Year Three and after, harvest the new young spears by snapping them off at the soil line. Stop harvesting when the new spears that appear are thinner than a pencil. (If you don't know from a pencil, ask your grandparents.)

The biggest enemy of a perennial asparagus bed is weeds, so a correctly prepared brand-new raised bed should be perfect to get them off to a good start. And what about the strawberries? I went online and, just like you, read all sorts of theories about interplanting the bed with other crops. I suspect the authors are apartment dwellers who can't keep a houseplant alive. As Mick Jagger famously sang, "you gotta walk before you can run"; and as he told me backstage at The Spectrum in 1975, "Diversify your financial portfolio".

I digress. I have got to start getting out more!

Anyway, grow your asparagus alone.

As to the crops of summer you reference, you HAVE to stop randomly stalking the Internet for information. You can plant them--although their availability is also going to be dicey.

That said, there is still plenty of time to plant and harvest tomatoes, peppers, cukes and zucchini, but there are two requirements:

1) You must purchase LARGE plants; ones that were started at the same time as all the others at the garden center or online store, but that have been progressively moved up into bigger containers. We're not talking six-packs here; we're talking about plants in medium to large size individual containers. And as the days get warmer, be sure to plant in the evening as opposed to the morning to give the plants time to get over any transplant shock.

2) You have to FIND these plants in a season where there has been an unprecedented run on food crops. So be diligent. Call or email every independent garden center near you. Reach out to local small-scale farms, and if all else fails, turn to big box stores or franchises. Believe it or not, a few of my pepper plants this season came from a surprise find at a local Ace hardware store (next to the only supermarket near me that was selling decent red wine). Yes, the plants were infested with aphids, but I used sharp sprays of water and they look fine now.

And if possible, stock up now on seeds for fall crops like spinach and lettuce. We can't grow toilet paper, but we sure as Hades can grow food.

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