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Growing asparagus takes time and patience. Gardeners and growers can expect to wait about two years before their first asparagus harvest, but many feel as though the perennial winter crop is worth the wait. An asparagus plant can live up to 20 years, produces attractive ferns, and will yield about half a pound of asparagus each year. For those who love this green veggie that is a great source of fiber, iron, vitamin C and vitamin B6, these plants are worth the investment of time and work.
How to start
How you start your asparagus plants will set a precedent for their health and crop yield for the next 20 years. It is important to choose your growing space carefully. Make sure the plants will receive full sun exposure and the soil drains well and warms up quickly in the sun. If the soil does not drain well the roots could rot in the ground. Make sure all the weeds and grasses are pulled from the area.
1-year-old asparagus crowns can be bought from your local nursery and are usually only sold during the first weeks of spring. When it is warm enough that your soil is workable, you can plant your asparagus plant. Some growers choose to soak the crowns in compost tea for about 20 minutes before planting to enrich the crowns with beneficial nutrients.
Asparagus Crowns, source: http://www.seedparade.co.uk/
Prepare the soil by digging trenches 10-12 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep. Mix your garden soil with a generous helping of compost and fertilizer, and fill the trenches with about 4 inches of the mix. Place the crown in the trench and cover the crown and roots with completely with the garden soil, just a few inches to start. Place the crowns at least 12 inches from each other along your garden bed or crop row. As the weeks go on and the shoots start to grow, continue filling in the trench a couple inches at a time until it is completely full. Make sure the soil is loose and lightly watered.
During the first two years, be sure to carefully remove weeds from the area as often as possible and use mulch such as shredded leaves and straw to smother weeds. Lightly water the plants regularly and keep the shoots covered with newspaper or mulch if expecting a frost in the night. For the first two years, do not harvest any shoots. They need to be able to grow into ferns for the first few years to establish deep, healthy roots.
When the fronds start to yellow in the fall, cut them back no more than an inch from the ground and remove completely from the area. Leaving the dead fronds could risk harboring asparagus beetles and other pests’ eggs and diseases in the garden. For the first few years, it is beneficial to fertilize the plants during the spring before the shoots start to grow. After the fourth year, only fertilize after the crop has been harvested.
Harvesting should not take place until the third year in the plants’ life. During these early years, you will be able to enjoy the attractive, lacy green ferns that will flourish in the spring and summer. The third year, you will finally be able to enjoy some fresh asparagus! Harvesting your asparagus shoots when they reach the desired height of 5 to 7 inches high, and before the tips start to loosen, will ensure the best flavor and texture. Diameter will vary and should not be a criteria for when to pick the asparagus. To harvest, cut the asparagus at ground level, and enjoy! During the first year of harvest, it is best collect only 4 weeks’ worth of asparagus, and in the following years the harvest can last about 8 weeks. Once the harvesting season is over, allow your plants to develop into ferns, and start researching great new asparagus recipes for the next spring.