Monday, March 28, 2016

How to Grow Asparagus

Vegetable gardening is fun, easy, and the extra work is enjoyable. One of my favorite vegetables to grow is asparagus. The crisp snap of a well grown asparagus spear is music to my ears. It is said that you can grow asparagus anywhere in the United States, except for where it is very hot. I have a bit of news for you! I live in Texas and we saw temperatures reach over 100 degrees for approximately 26 days during this summer. My asparagus is thriving and I'd like to share with you how I grew my stand.

I live in what is called the "Blackland Prairie" in North Central Texas and the soil here is certainly heavy black clay. Although asparagus loves to live in a sandy loam soil, it will survive in heavy clay soils. You should make sure that there is sufficient drainage. Once planted, mulching with finely ground finished compost to maintain soil moisture is a must.

Previous to setting out one year old crowns, purchased from a reputable garden supplier, I turn in about 6 inches of quality compost to a depth of about 12" through a process called double digging. For best results, the best soil ph range should be about 6.5 to 7.0. Make sure you test your soil before planting, so you give your asparagus the best chance to produce for years to come.

Planting and Fertilizing
Buy quality plants! Purchase plants that are at least 2 years old. Set your plants into a trench 6" deep. Cover them with about 3" of soil. As the spears start to grow, cover with more soil until the trench is full. This is when I use a finely ground finished compost as a mulch. I usually plant multiple rows about three feet apart. At planting time I use a standard vegetable fertilizer, spreading about 3-4 pounds per 100 square feet. I'll also fertilize in late July with about 1 pound per 50' row.

Disease and Insects
Your plants can be affected by Frusarium wilt. This disease is brought on by too much moisture. Typically in Texas, it comes with summer rains in July through August. It is best to just remove infected plants as there is no control available.

Rust disease can be seen as small orange patches on asparagus spears and on the fern part of the plant. Rust is usually caused by high humidity and warm temperatures, so pick a rust-resistant variety. There are many rust resistant variety's available.

Asparagus beetle can become a menace to more than just asparagus in your garden. The beetle is small and cylindrical shaped and black with yellow markings. You may also see them on your bush beans and squashes. I watch for the beetle when my spears start to break the soil. I usually hand pick the beetles, however, if necessary I treat with a vegetable garden insect killer that lists asparagus and asparagus beetle on the label.

My first focus would be to try to introduce beneficial insects into the garden to control soft bodied insects like aphids instead of just applying a pesticide. I would also consider insecticidal soaps for thrips as well.
In early spring the spears can turn brown. This is usually caused by extremely cold weather, frost or freezes. The problem can be best controlled by removing the damaged spears and mulch with straw when you know the nighttime temps will plummet.

During the growing season
My main focus is to maintain even moisture to the asparagus plants. Their roots will reach into the next row, so keep the entire growing area evenly moist. Fertilize in the same manner; evenly. You may side dress your plants with your summer feeding, but I usually make a broadcast type of fertilizing for even coverage as well.

I started off with one year-old crowns, but spent two very patient years waiting to harvest. It was well worth the wait. Then I limited my first harvest so that I would not remove too many spears that were needed for crown support later in the season. In the third year, I harvested for a longer period of time because I had many more spears come up earlier. Once you get past that third year, you can usually harvest for a period of up to two months or more. 

Stop cutting the spears when they start to get thinner and the temperatures start to rise significantly. I cut my spears at the soil level. Let the rest of the plants that grow this season grow into full grown plants. These will provide food and strength for next seasons spears.

Preparing Asparagus
Although there are a multitude of recipes for asparagus, my favorite way to cook them is on the grill. I will steam them for just about 4 or 5 minutes, and then throw them on a very hot grill to put sear marks on them. The searing/grilling just brings out the flavor.

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