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Clueless about Asparagus...  RSS feed

 
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Hi. I'm rather excited over a purchase today of some Asparagus crowns. These are an American raised variety Jersey Giant. Giant Asparagus, mmmm.

I've read the label but I want Permaculture Asparagus, not pampered Asparagus. You know, work hard up front to make it easy thereafter.

Does it have companions? Weed control? Water requirements? Hot tips?

Sometimes permie gardeners blow me away with their insight and innovation. Feel free to do that now.



 
pollinator
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Dig their location deep. Real deep. Deeper than that. Never dig there again. Make sure the soil is always extremely fertile. Add compost & mulch on top each year. Hand pick the weeds, or better yet, cut them down with scissors. Be especially vigilant with weeds the first few years. They must have reasonable water. They don't have to stay soggy but make sure they don't get too dry for too long. Kill off the females. They will have red seeds. Males are bigger. Don't harvest any for the first several years. After that only harvest for 6 weeks when they first appear at the end of winter. Leave about 25% of those first to appear too. A few shoots on each plant to help the plant rejuvenate after winter. Enjoy 20 or more years of amazing asparagus!!!
 
pollinator
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My only suggestion is that you plant it somewhere a bit out of the way, where you will not mind the long, messy, leggy vines that take over when your season is over.  The asparagus spears turn into fern-y, breezy long branches that tend to flop over and fill up a space.  After a while, you can't even walk through the patch.  They are a bit of a mess.  But you've got to let them grow like that or you will not get big strong crowns from which next year's spear emerge. 

So unless you don't mind messy, leggy asparagus fronds messing up the clean look of your garden, plant them somewhere where you won't mind them doing their messy thing all summer.

OK -- one more suggestion: you don't necessarally need to plant them super deep, because plants will find their own depth in time.  But I would suggest that you heavily mulch over them once they go dormant in the fall and you clean up the patch.  3 or 4 inches of wood chips over the top of the asparagus patch is a nice winter blanket.  In the spring, you'll still have some of that mulch left, and the new spears will poke their way right up through it.  It makes weeding so much simpler next summer.  I mulch my asparagus patch every October or so.  If you have access to manure, a light top dressing of composted manure will certainly give the asparagus a jump start in the spring.
 
Dc Brown
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Excellent thank you both. I have a sack of horse manure to mix with compost for the initial planting. I especially appreciate the advice about how leggy they get in Winter I'd forgotten how it looks in the off season. So glad I asked for advice I am trying hard to beautify the front as an advertisement for sustainable gardening, not a mess...

I shall sleep on it again, but this advice has been invaluable. Again, thank you.



 
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Very interesting companion dynamic:
 
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I transplanted some lettuce into my asparagus bed this summer, around the time I stopped harvesting them in early June. It's a fertile, somewhat shaded spot that I need to keep weeded anyway, so I figure I might as well put something there that can't handle the full July sun. This was the first year I tried it but they turned out pretty well.

You can straw mulch asparagus or not, based on your priorities, just remember that the soil temperature is what triggers them to start coming up in the spring. So if you leave the soil bare in the spring, it'll warm up fast, and you'll get that delicious early asparagus when garden crops are otherwise really sparse (often around April 20 here in PA). If you mulch, you'll cut down on the weeds, but your asparagus will come up later (although it'll also stay productive later into June).  Of course the slope of your land and a bunch of other factors affecting how easily you can leave soil bare for a few weeks may come into play there as well.

 
Mike Barkley
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It doesn't show your location so I'll add this. Asparagus needs to go dormant in the winter. If you are in a colder climate the above ground growth will die off on it's own. In Texas I had to cut it down with pruning shears towards the end of fall. I actually like the look of the top growth. Florists like to buy it for floral arrangements but until you have an excess just let it grow for the best results on your table.
 
Dc Brown
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This is great stuff. I totally get it re: lettuce and the white currants look really good too. Plants that love shade in full summer... there's a few. It might be good for sheltering some Tumeric too. Need to study my sun observations and nail down the location.

I only have black currants at present. They and the Asparagus would probably be better off where my section traps cold. Blackcurrants need to move they really don't like encroaching lawn they'll live but do not thrive.  I might have to form a cold trap, no biggie, Experiments R Us.

I've always wondered at the opinion leaving soil covered in spring will not allow it to warm as fast. Vs my theory that a deep mulch layer will be composting a little and the biological activity will help warm things. I guess it's a whole other debate, and the data is already in on spring ground cover from what I can gather (or did we get here by Chinese Whispers?). I question all this after observing snow melt on biological vs chemical fields, and in the video of Sepp Holzer's place.

Maybe a nitrogen addition to carboniferous mulch near the end of winter would make things heat up without the uncover/cover back up suggested by all this. Maybe. Scuse me straying off topic, everything connects somehow.
 
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hau Dean, Ok, about leaving mulch in place in the spring; if you want the soil to warm up as fast as is possible you should at least reduce the thickness of a mulch layer to let the energy of the sun strike the soil surface, this does a few important things.

Sun warming the soil surface energizes the microorganisms living in the soil, they have been sluggish and almost (if not fully) in a hibernation mode, they need to wake up and get to eating, just like a bear.
Sun warming the soil surface also gets any lingering gasses moving and as those leave the soil, new O2 enters the soil.
This is also the process of waking up seeds that have been gathering moisture from the soil and swelling the seed coat in preparation for germination when the soil temps get right.

Leaving the mulch in a thick layer holds in extra moisture, in spring this can cause damping off of seeds, mold growth in the soil and on seed coats(damping off).
It prevents the warmth of the sun reaching the soil surface and that means the soil will stay colder longer than exposed or semi exposed  soil.
By the way, trying to make mulch heat up usually ends up cooking the seeds in the soil, if you want the soil to be fairly sterile, then this might be a way to do it, but usually that also kills off soil organisms (which we really want to thrive in our soil.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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I'm curious to hear how these do.  I started Asparagus from seed so I'm looking at two or three years down the road.  I planted the asparagus seedlings perennial flowers and Aztec spinach on a new hugle mound.  Everything is alive but I didn't get much size out of the asparagus.  I would heavily amend them, I didn't.
 
Dc Brown
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You folks are great!

The soil exposure makes a lot of sense especially the damping off bit my inner microbiologist had bells going off like crazy.

I've decided against trying to put Tumeric behind the Asparagus as I'll be trying for a cold locale which is not Tumerics preference. But today it's a big potato bed with log surrounds. Fungi infested old carpet - Compost and minerals (rockdust, di-calcium phosphate, and lime), seed potatoes, mulch. Done.

All this digging required. If Asparagus didn't last decades I'd be having second thoughts
 
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Consider buying some seeds while you're at it. I bought 80 asparagus seeds for $3, while one crown here costs $7. I think you only have to wait one extra year with seed-grown compare to purchased crowns.

My asparagus seedlings are going strong and unlike my other seedlings haven't been attacked by any pests.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Over the years I've heard many different horticulturist tell me different methods for growing great asparagus plants. I've tried several of these methods and have come to some conclusions I'll list for folks.

1. Digging deep is only necessary where the soil has been compacted or where lots of soil enrichment is required because of lack of humus, minerals and drainage.

2. In a sandy loam type of soil you only need to dig a trench about a foot deep to plant crowns then cover with soil, as the plant grows just slowly fill in the trench.

3. Asparagus does not tolerate weed competition for at least three years, once the plants are well established the weeds do not seem to bother them as much, but it is a good idea to keep broad leaf weeds out of the bed.

4. composted manures (mixed animal species) work the best if they are slightly worked into the top few inches in winter, this doesn't seem to harm the asparagus plants but it does wonders for them in the spring.

5. Mulch is good but only a thin (2-3 inch) layer works better since you will not need to remove any of it, and this mulch should be light weight for getting the best spear production.

6. Using all male plants (which is what you get when you buy crowns) helps production rates but does not allow for reproduction by seed. This isn't a problem for most folks growing asparagus since they most likely will not want to build more beds.
If you are growing asparagus for sale then you might want to plant one bed from seeds so you can expand your growing area without having to wait for crowns to reproduce underground from the rhizome nature of asparagus roots.

Note: Crowns allow for full harvest after three years in the ground, seeds should be ready for full harvest after four years.
The wait time is so the roots (crowns) can grow enough that a six week harvest period will still leave enough root energy for later spears to appear and turn into the fronds for root energy replenishment.
Failure to allow this establishment time period will result in a shortened life span of asparagus crowns.

I know of "wild" fields of asparagus (fields that were established then forgotten when people either died or moved away) that were producing in the 1950's and are still producing good quantities of spears today even though they are in a STUN situation and have been since the 1960's.

Redhawk
 
Mike Barkley
pollinator
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Using all male plants (which is what you get when you buy crowns)



I've definitely had females from store bought crowns. On more than one occasion. Have some right now in fact. No problem. Hoping to finally be able to grow themfrom seeds. More asparagus is a good thing!
 
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Along these lines, I have what I think is a bright idea but... probably isn't.

In my garden, I inherited a small rhubarb patch.  It's nice loose soil, elevated a bit from the soggy clay that is the rest of the garden.  Can I interplant asparagus with rhubarb?

Why I think it would work:
--Rhubarb is pretty short; asparagus is tall.  They shouldn't really be competing with each other.
--They seem to like similar soil conditions and amendments.
--As perennials, they'd be happy with mostly undisturbed roots together.
--I have to divide the rhubarb this winter anyway, so putting in asparagus crowns while I'm digging would be easy.  (I am lazy.)

Why I have doubts:
--They'd be jostling each other in early spring, and asparagus would have to get tall before the rhubarb forms a canopy.
--I would have to divide the rhubarb every few years.*  Can asparagus take that kind of regular disturbance?
--No one else is doing this.  What am I missing?

*Or just pull/kill extras, I guess.  I've divided them already and have happy healthy rhubarb all over the garden, so I'm not in deep need of more plants, just allowing the ones there some breathing room.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
 
Dc Brown
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Again I really appreciate the time taken to answer here.

@ Morfydd St. Clair: I can only speak about my rhubarb.

The roots are very large and form a solid mass above ground here. There is no off season, self thinning, or gaps. (We do not get a harsh winter).

Transplants have aggressively displaced proximate slower growing plants (sage, chives, potatoes).

Removal of unwanted rhubarb* is greatly assisted by shading out.

For years I was convinced I had a special strain of rhubarb. It was ENORMOUS. I gave plants to everyone I could to ensure longevity in this amazing line. But nobody seemed to get results like me. Was it the compost tea? Being an early adopter and microbiologist I then started believing my own hype about how good my compost tea was...

Well over a decade into believing I had something special some men came to fix the roof and noted a hole in my gutter above the rhubarb. This plant will grow above and beyond anything you've seen in the market with regular and copious water. The water regime is not compatible with established Asparagus, though smaller dryer (rhubarb) plants would likely exist side by side ok I'd not try them in one bed together, which is only my opinion I've been wrong before

*There is no such thing as unwanted rhubarb.



 
Morfydd St. Clair
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Thank you, Dean!

I don't water my rhubarb - it's really wet here year-round.  So any asparagus will have to live with wet feet anyway.

We do have harsh winters, with rhubarb dieback starting in September.  (I should go weed my rhubarb as they're no longer shading everything else out.)  Last time I divided, I definitely didn't see a single mass of roots, but it's a good point that they could outcompete asparagus.

I think I'll try it anyway (because why not?) and also put crowns in a bed a little north that used to be a compost heap.  You would think that this would be perfect for asparagus, so I've tried there before.  It... grows nettles really well.

Your rhubarb story is awesome.  Keep watering!
 
Mike Barkley
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My advice is to give both plenty of room. Rhubarb can get extremely large. Especially if it is grown in well composted cow manure. Six feet or more tall with a very wide circumference too. The roots from each plant are quite extensive once they reach full maturity but they are somewhat forgiving of the occasional shovel.
 
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