I am an optimistic seed buyer. What seems entirely easy and reasonable in December and January often turns onerous come planting time. (My saving grace is often the fact that seeds keep--there's always next year.)
So one of this year's optimistic purchases was asparagus seed. Now that I've remembered that I bought it and ought to do something with it, I've found that the recommendation is to start the seeds 10-12 weeks before the last frost, which as it happens would have been 10-12 weeks ago.
My question, therefore, is what to do from here. Do I go ahead and start the seeds, knowing they will be 'delayed, by 10-12 weeks going into the fall/winter, or just wait until next year and get on it earlier? (I can, of course, do both: start some seeds now and see what happens, and save some to start next year, but I'd prefer to learn from someone else's similar mistake if that's an option.)
I wonder if they need a cold stratification? I'd plant them now. I'd imagine that they will grow and be happy plants in Maine with a much shorter growing season than you have so I doubt the delay would be an issue. If they need stratification, they won't come up till next year anyway so it again doesn't matter.
I've twice tried growing asparagus from seed, and both times started them in spring (March I think). The first time I did them in a seed tray. They did not transplant well, and all died by the end of that season. The second time I thought I would presprout them and then direct sow: direct sowing yields stronger plants, right? These lasted longer, but of the 20 or so seeds in the packet, only five actually came up, and then only one was still there the next year. And you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a blade of grass, it was so small and spindly.
That said, I seem to be pretty bad at asparagus anyway. The crowns I originally planted also only lived a couple years, dying off one by one. I followed all the advice and didn't harvest for the first two years--I would have gotten to eat more asparagus if I hadn't followed this advice, as only one plant made it to the third year and then died.
Oh well. I'm actually trying once again this year with another set of crowns, one of which has now sent up one spear (still following that advice, hope I don't regret it!).
Absolutely -- start them now. You really shouldn't take any spears off a plant for the first season (or two) anyway, so this season will be about growing a crown and giving it a great start.
Consider digging a shallow trench about 4 inches deep. Plant your seeds in the trench, and then in the months to come, as the plants emerge and reach upward slowly fill that trench an inch or so at a time every month with fertile soil. By the end of the summer, the trench will be filled and your crowns will be well established at a nice depth. People used to plant asparagus crowns a foot deep, which seems crazy to me. 4 inches or so is plenty deep.
Let the asparagus ferns grow all summer. Don't cut them off until they fully die back in the fall. Asparagus is a bit of a messy plant and all those ferns can be a tangled mess. But if you want healthy crowns and a big crop the following spring, you've got to let them grow and collect sunlight all summer.
Best of luck.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
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