Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ilona Sherrat: Asparagus — A Worthwhile Investment!

My husband and I were married and bought our house in the Berkshires in 1980. I had been growing vegetables at various rental houses for several years, but these were temporary gardens. Now that we had finally settled in our own home, I couldn’t wait to start a permanent, organic vegetable garden. The very first thing I planted in my new garden was a row of asparagus, and I am thrilled to report that after thirty years the bed is still healthy and productive!

I followed the planting directions in an old organic gardening book, which turned out to be exactly the same as those in Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletin #A-63, Grow the Best Asparagus, and very similar to Edward C. Smith’s directions in The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.
  1. Dig a trench, 12 to 18 inches deep. (My husband did the digging, and he still talks about it!) The bed should be at least 4 feet from the next row or edge of a lawn.
  2. Put 6 to 8 inches of compost and rotted manure into the trench.
  3. Place the crowns about 18 inches apart in the trench. The roots should be spread out, like an octopus.
  4. Cover with a couple of inches of soil, and as the plants grow keep covering them up until the trench is filled in.
DO NOT PICK UNTIL THE THIRD YEAR. It was tempting, but I held out until the plants were well established, with nice, thick spears coming up.

After the first year of hard work, all the asparagus has ever needed is basic care: top dressing with rotted manure in the early spring and later in the early summer, weeding, mulching with straw in the summer, and covering the bed with leaves in the fall to protect the crowns.

The asparagus shoots start to emerge around May 1 here in Zone 5A. The harvest usually lasts for a month, and I snap the spears off rather than cut them. Ed Smith recommends this method, too. I keep them in jars of water in the refrigerator until I have enough for a meal. At the height of the growing season in mid-May, I can pick a pound a day from the 25-by-5-foot bed that started as 15 crowns over 30 years ago. What a worthwhile investment!

— Ilona Sherrat, Illustration Coordinator, Storey Publishing


Anonymous said...

So this bounty is from the original 15 crowns planted 30 years ago? You did not need to plant new or replacement crowns through the years?

Gardeningbren said...

We planted ours about thirteen years ago using the same directions but hilling the center of the crown on sand for good drainage. They are not as strong as the first years but are producing very well.

Just want to say..if you plant as the directions noted..using the trench method...the bed should be strong for many years. Thirty years is impressive...rich compost every spring makes a difference as well.

Ilona Sherratt said...

Dear Anonymous,

Of the original 15 crowns 3 or 4 have died over the years. I was thinking about replacing them until I began to notice that the more vigorous plants on either side were starting to fill in the gaps in the row. Asparagus grows the same way as many other long-lived perennials do- often the center part of an older plant will die off but the plant will continue to flourish in "satellite" clumps around the original planting. The bed has spread out over time, and I'm sure the current crop comes from satellite crowns that have grown out from the original plants.