Common Name: Asparagus
Botanical Name: Asparagus officinalis
Type and Use: Perennial with edible shoots
Location: Full sun
Planting Dates: Late winter, usually February.
Planting Method: Division or crowns. Asparagus can also be grown from seed as some experts recommend in order to avoid diseases that can be in the crowns. This method requires an extra year before harvest. Plant seed 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart after soaking for 24 hours in liquid seaweed. Move to permanent beds when seedlings are about 12 inches tall.
Seed Emergence: Early spring, but most asparagus is grown from roots. Seed germinates in a range of 60-85į
Harvest Time: Edible shoots are harvested as they emerge in the early summer
Height: 4-5 feet
Spread: 6 feet and greater
Final Spacing: 18 inches-24 inches in the rows, rows 5 feet apart
Growth Habits: Fern-like growth, red berries on female plants. Shoots come up from rhizomes.
Culture: Healthy soil and the basic organic program. Highly organic beds and excellent drainage are critical. Overwatering can cause crown rot and loss of new or established plants. Plant crowns (roots) in 3-4 foot beds in late winter. Best planting method is to prepare beds as usual with heavy amounts of compost, lava sand, sugar, organic fertilizer, or manure. Then add earthworm castings, soak roots in seaweed water, spread out, cover the roots with 3 inches of compost, and then add 6-9 inches of shredded mulch. Partially completed compost can be used. Plantings should last at least 10-15 years, probably longer under an organic program.
Troubles and Solutions: Crown rot, spider mites, slugs, snails, cutworms, and other fungal diseases. None of these troubles are serious if the soil is healthy and drains well. Fusarium root and harmful fungi can be controlled with cornmeal at 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Harvest and Storage: Donít harvest many, if any, of the shoots the first year. The plants need to produce foliage to make food to build a strong root system. Go easy on the harvesting of shoots the second year, and even in the third and subsequent years let some of the shoots grow to produce foliage while harvesting other shoots. Thatís the traditional recommendation. However, according to researchers, you can harvest the first year without hurting future yearís yields by planting year-old crowns. Never harvest tall shoots. You can cut the shoots off underground as most books recommend if you want to. Store at 32-40į for 2-4 weeks.
Notes: Production of good sized shoots will be stronger. Cold weather helps produce larger shoots. Asparagus production is directly related to beneficial fungi in the root systems. Male plants produce more spears, but females (with red berries) produce larger spears but have a higher mortality rate.
Varieties: Mary and Martha Washington, Ben Franklin, Jumbo Jim, Jersey Gem, UC 157, Jersey Knight and Jersey Giant are all male hybrids developed at Rutgers University.