Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Plant Asparagus for Many Happy Returns

Nothing says spring quite like asparagus. Growing your own spears takes a little upfront effort, but the rewards are manifold. Asparagus is considered a "valuable" crop, meaning it's pretty expensive to buy it at the market. It's a hardy perennial, so once established, it returns each year.
First sign of spring.

First, chose a sight that receives full sun and good drainage. Asparagus likes a soil pH between 5.8 and 6.5. If you're not sure of your soil's pH, the Virginia Cooperation Extension will test it for you and send back the results, including recommendations for amendment.  You'll probably need to enrich the soil with composted manure, bone meal, humus, or composted leaves (leaf mold). It is useful to amend the soil at least 6 months before planting, in order to give the planting area time to mature.

Asparagus fits nicely into a woodland area,
that receives at least part-sun.
Double-dig the planting area by removing the first foot of soil, and then breaking up the next 12 inches of subsoil. Dig trenches twelve to eighteen inches wide, and four to five feet apart. Mix the topsoil with organic amdendments, and refill the bed.

Plant asparagus crowns, purchased from a reputable nursery, around the same time that you would plant peas and potatoes; in other words, when soil can be worked in spring, before days grow long and warm. Recommended cultivars for Virginia are Jersey Knight, Jersey Giant, Jersey Gem, and Purple Passion.

Keep the bed weed free and evenly moist. A two-inch layer of mulch will help with temperature and moisture control. Apply a balanced fertilizer in late winter, before spears emerge.

Unfortunately, harvesting asparagus in the first year is not recommended. The plants need energy to fully mature. In the second year, take just a few spears. The third year will be the most productive. Snip spears when they're no bigger than a pinkie finger, before the tips begin to flower.
Asparagus Salade Nicoise

Asparagus recipes abound on the internet. When you only have a small harvest, try a few of these suggestions:

  • combine the tender spears with fingerling potatoes, garlic, and lemon;
  • slice them lengthwise and bake on pizza;
  • lightly steam spears and toss into Salade Nicoise
  • combine with other veggies on a credite platter

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