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Eliminating weeds from an existing bed - experiences with asparagus

 
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I'm planning an asparagus bed, and I've read that asparagus is extremely intolerant of weeds and other competitors. I've got my eye on a raised cinderblock bed, probably about 2 feet deep. There is dirt in there already, and I know I'll need to amend it to build some soil more specific to asparagus' needs. The bed has a cover of low-lying weeds (no grasses). If I pull the weeds now and cover with cardboard/mulch over the winter, will this be enough to have a sufficiently weed-free bed? Or will any remaining seeds just grow in the Spring?

What have been your experiences in growing asparagus (right soil conditions and keeping weeds down)? Thanks for your help in creating my plan of attack
 
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Hannah Eliza wrote:I'm planning an asparagus bed, and I've read that asparagus is extremely intolerant of weeds and other competitors. I've got my eye on a raised cinderblock bed, probably about 2 feet deep. There is dirt in there already, and I know I'll need to amend it to build some soil more specific to asparagus' needs. The bed has a cover of low-lying weeds (no grasses). If I pull the weeds now and cover with cardboard/mulch over the winter, will this be enough to have a sufficiently weed-free bed? Or will any remaining seeds just grow in the Spring?

What have been your experiences in growing asparagus (right soil conditions and keeping weeds down)? Thanks for your help in creating my plan of attack



I haven't found that to be true.  Asparagus grows wild in ditches all over around here, and I see it in the space places with no care whatsoever year after year.  My own patch is so overgrown with quack grass and weeds, it is hard to believe anything can grow in it, but I get lots of asparagus from that patch every year.  I have never weeded it, and it has been producing for 8 or 9 years now.  It may be that it would do better if if were weeded, but quack overruns everything here, asparagus included.
 
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For rapid establishment of asparagus crowns you do indeed want to start weed free, once that first year of establishment is past, you can simply  let it go, you won't get the maximum number of spears though and you will probably need some disease control at some point.

Wild growing asparagus is different than planting crowns, just like transplanting tomatoes or any other vegetable, and with asparagus you are planting ferns.
Two feet deep will end up about right (some beds are up to 5 feet deep for locating the crowns) just be sure to start your crowns at the very bottom so you can add soil to cover as you go along.
Do remember that with cultivars you don't harvest any spears the first year or two (two years will give a serious jump start when you do start harvesting the third year you can harvest more than 1/3.

I've seen asparagus grow for over 40 years once it is established, with no care at all.
My personal goal is to give it a good start then just watch it and do care taking when it seems to be needed.
The main reason, other than getting a good start on your asparagus cultivars, for keeping weeds out is for maximum nutrient availability to the crowns and later on ease of harvest of spears.

The question of weeds is more personal preference, I don't mind weeds or grass showing up and if it seems to be a problem, I just gently pull out the offending plants, being careful to not disturb the crop.

If you are going to do the planting in the spring, I would probably get as much of the bed ready for spring then just do a turning of the top layer as a green manure when I'm in there planting crowns.
The turning at time of planting is the easy way to do this planting of asparagus crowns.
 
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I know at the home place when I was get up there a patch that was never weeded  and it produced ok, I bet it would have been better if we took care of it.  I have two plants along the fence that I found this year as I cleared out brush, maybe after clearing it out I can get more!
 
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Hannah,

I say good job on going with the raised bed idea, and cinder blocks are a great edge as they will last forever.

I would ask you about how you plan to fill this bed.  A 2’ deep bed will utilize a pretty large volume of any bedding material.  If you plan on bringing in topsoil, you will want to make it as weed free as possible.  Personally, I am making all of my beds into raised beds and I am filling with woodchips (I have plenty of wood for chipping on my property) and decomposing with wine cap mushrooms.  I do this more for the amazingly fertile bedding than the mushrooms themselves, but the mushrooms are a nice treat.

Given that you are trying to reduce to a minimum the amount of weeds, you might try my approach.  I am a teacher and I get a huge amount of paper that collects at the end of the year.  I like to take 3-4 page tests and lay them down in an overlapping pattern and then cover with more chips or straw. The tests make a decent weed barrier that nonetheless breaks down by the end of the season.  You could potentially lay the tests (or whatever) all over the bed and just leave little holes for your asparagus to grow up.  You won’t get every last weed, but you will get a lot and really reduce your weeding requirements.  What few weeds grow through are easily pulled out.  If you decide to grow in woodchips, the weeds have virtually nothing to hold on to and pull out with ease, all in one gentle movement (as opposed to yanking and leaving roots left in the ground to grow back at will).

If you are still interested in the woodchip method, I can give you some more advice on how to get things working the first year.  Incidentally, I have found that absolutely nothing tops the fertility of an active colony of mushrooms growing in decayed woodchips.  I am in the process of converting all of my garden beds into woodchip/mushroom beds.

Eric
 
Hannah Eliza
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Perhaps the material I was reading was a bit scare-mongery about weeds! I'll try covering with paper/cardboard and mulch or woodchips over the winter, and when spring comes I'll pull or turn over what's left while I'm planting the crowns.

There is existing soil in the cinderblock bed, though it doesn't seem terribly healthy. We just moved onto the property and I'm not sure what the bed was used for previously. So while I won't need to fill the whole thing anew, I will need to add some amendments at first and keep working on it throughout the years.

I am planting the asparagus in this location in part because there isn't super easy access to water, and after they are established asparagus is apparently not too thirsty. However, I'll need to keep it moist for the first year or two and plan to do this with mulching/wood chips. (And possibly putting a rain collection barrel in the vicinity.)  I am interested in inoculating woodchips at some point but haven't thought about it for this bed. Could be a good way to build soil health and maybe grow something edible while I'm waiting for the asparagus to be ready for harvest The chapter on outdoor mushroom beds in Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms gave me some good ideas.
 
Eric Hanson
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Hannah,

Do you see yourself going the mushroom route?  I am still relatively new to it, but my results have been amazing.  This summer I grew summer squash in the same places I grew tomatoes the year before.  Despite growing two heavy feeders in a row, the summer squash was the best, most healthy summer squash I have ever seen.  I can only imagine that it would do wonders for your asparagus.

If you do try the woodchip route, regardless of whether you go the mushroom route or not, I would suggest planting your asparagus in fertile holes in the chips.  Make a good mix that will supply your asparagus with all the nutrients they need and the holes will feed the hungry asparagus.

The beauty of having the mushrooms is that the fungi will wrap themselves around the plant roots and the plants and fungi will feed each other.  In the end the fungi very effectively and efficiently scavenge nutrients for your asparagus.

These are all just suggestions and take or leave what you like.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Hannah, everyone,

I am thinking about adding an asparagus patch.  I had an old one but it got overgrown and is no longer productive for a variety of reasons.  I would really like to try some of the newer hybrids, but I really want to do things right this time.  I have an old, terribly overgrown bed and I have a lot of wood to chip up.  

My plan is to:
Firstly, trim everything right down to the ground.  

Secondly, I want to lay down a nice layer of cardboard.

Third, chip up a whole lot of chips onto the bed.

Assuming I have enough chips left, I will

Fourth, dig several fertile holes in the chips and fill with a manure mix.

Fifth, Inoculate chips with wine caps and soak down.

Sixth, plant the asparagus crowns.

Seventh, cover with paper except for the asparagus

Eighth, cover with a few more chips and cover with straw (2-4 inches)

Ninth, water down thoroughly again.

Tenth, wait!

Eric
 
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I planted asparagus in my woodchip garden.  Now I've located several wild patches (without even "Searching for the Wild Asparagus").  When do you cut the stalks to eat them?
 
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I just relocated my plants that were growing in quack grass. The problems were that they were too far from zone 1; I could not see the spears when they came up, They were small because of the competition even though they were over 10 years old.
The resource I have is sea weed that washes up on the beach after storms. Asparagus tolerates this mulch if not prefers it in comparison to other plants. Accidentally There was bokchoy seed in the ground so i am getting a crop of that right now while the ferns are dormant. Fast growing shade tolerant shallow rooted plants can be inter cropped.  Straw berries are often used as a ground cover.
My plan is for the ferns to shade the west windows of the greenhouse in the summer. Now they are where I look every day so I can harvest them at the right time.
 
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This is only our third year growing asparagus. The first year, months before the asparagus arrived. We layered the bed, dug everythign out and began to refill with yumminess. Layers starting from the bottom up. Cardboard, woodchips, logs, sticks, vermicompost, soil (from the removal), woodchips, vermicompost.
Then we dug trenches, 2 straight long trenches. Placed the crowns in trenches, as they grew we topped with really good compost/soil blend. This winter we cut it all back and topped again with compost.
Last summer the asparagus didn't seem to mind all the tomatoes growing with it. The tomatoes were like octopus that crawling all over the bed.

The less competition from weeds, the more nutrients and water available for the more desirable plants.

Mushrooms are amazing!
 
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I have an established raised here of asparagus and do weed it haphazardly as I walk past it by the coops or rabbit hutches giving the gleaning to the animals. If I were to do one thing different as someone mentioned would be to get it closer (zone 1) to be able to harvest the spears as they grow. It grows incredibly fast and it is easy to miss an opportunity to get them before they start to fern out sometimes. I have had really little trouble with weeds but crowns I planted last year had some hitch hiking buffalo burr seeds with them a plant that I had never seen here before. The wife planted strawberries amongst the crowns last season which is supposed to work well, we'll see what happens this year.
 
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Asparagus will tolerate a salty soil, a very unusual trait.  If asparagus is the only planting in the raised bed that could work well for you. Consider Rodale's Organic Encyclopedia recommendations which talk of using salt, not for weed control, but for the health of the plant:

"For healthy asparagus, add sodium chloride rock salt (NaCl) to beds more than one year old. Apply 2.5 lb. per  per 100' row either before spears appear or around July 4. Research shows this treatment helps asparagus resist crown and root rot diseases caused by Fusarium fungi and also improves overall growth. Don't use iodized table salt or rock salt made of calcium chloride (CaCl). Pickling salt, however, is fine for the job."
 
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Some of my happiest asparagus 'volunteered' in my blueberry bed suggesting they like higher acid as well as higher salt.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Robert, have you tried using a non purified sea salt for your asparagus beds?
I use about 4 lbs. per 4'x8' bed and the flavonoids are not only stronger from the plant being healthier.
I also seem to get more good sized spears for a longer period of time.
I stop harvesting when the new shoots start getting skinny.
 
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