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Rejuvenate/replant asparagus bed with woodchips  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Southern Illinois
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Hello,

As I have recently mentioned on other threads, I have an almost embarrassing over abundance of woodchips.  I can spread out existing chip piles mostly within the confines of existing beds, but I need a place to pile new chips and let them age for a season before distribution.  

A thought I had was to make my new pile on a neglected asparagus bed that is completely infested with numerous grass and weeds.  Basically I would smother everything in the bed for a year and afterwards level down to a 1' high chip bed and replant with a newer strain of asparagus.

At present the existing asparagus show no signs of disease but due to neglect it is hopelessly inundated with weeds (due to a time period where health issues prohibited me from proper upkeep--I am trying now to repair some of that neglect).  The asparagus was a set I bought from a big box store & I would replace with a better nursery variety.

I spoke with a nursery spokesperson and was told this was bad for three reasons.  
1). I would infect the new asparagus with unseen disease from the old asparagus
2). The woodchips would scar tender asparagus shoots as they emerged through the chips
3). Using mushrooms to decompose chips would result in a bed that was too hot and high in salt for asparagus

I can almost see point 1, but is there any truth to points 2 or 3?  I have recently posted about how good composting is for the soil under the pile regardless of the condition of the compost itself so I would think this is a great way to rejuvenate an old bed and I fully intend to use wine caps to help things along, but I would love a second (or 3rd) opinion.  

For reference, I live in zone 6b and have alfisol clay soil.

Thanks in advance and sorry for the long post

Eric
 
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hau Eric, all I can say about your bounty of wood chips is "what a problem to have!"

Asparagus that comes from big box stores is almost always Martha Washington variety (at least that's the only one I've found at any of ours here in Arkansas).
How many years has this bed been set? MW can produce well for up to around 20 years, and it will survive neglect.
Case in point, in Alberta, Canada I am aware of a field (probably around 100 acres) that has been producing MW spears for over 50 years now, the owners passed to the spirit world about 35 years ago and the family, while still owning the farm, does nothing with this land.
The people that live in the nearby town go out and harvest spears for 8 weeks every year, the field is full of "weeds" since it has not been tended to for 35 years.

So, while I wouldn't worry much about the bed's current condition, laying on wood chips would only hinder the current crowns production in my opinion.
Straw would be a kinder to the new spears (fiddle heads of the asparagus fern) but if you want to introduce a new species of crowns, then either would be grand for the soil.
Using wood chips, I would give them a soak in mushroom slurry prior to laying them over the current bed and I would later on give a spray of compost tea, just to get things really rolling along.
Mycellium do not increase heat nor do they raise salts content of soils, it is bacteria that cause the heating of a compost heap and wood chip heaps work the same way.

Of course you could do this and then simply make the bed either larger overall or longer by adding your new species crowns or end up with an interspersed bed since most likely not all the current crowns would die out.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Thanks for the info Redhawk!  I always appreciate your superlative perspective.  You are correct that the current strain is Martha Washington and the bed is about 12 years old.  My thought was to replant with "Millennium" and smother everything else out and of course, use as much wood chips and wine caps to do so.  

When I mentioned the pile being too hot, I think the nursery rep meant too high in nitrogen.  However, that doesn't make any sense as asparagus is such a heavy feeder, I doubt I can ever give it too much nitrogen without resorting to heavy artificial fertilizer.  Your statements reinforce my own opinion that the rep was trying to sell me special asparagus fertilizer down the road.

Finally, you are right again that I have a real "problem" with woodchips.  In my case I am making lemonade from lemons.  Virtually all my chips come from highly invasive autumn olive bushes.  Left alone they will easily take over any grassy area not regularly mowed.  In order to just maintain my living fence I need to trim back about 1-3 feet along a line several hundred feet long and as you can imagine, this makes for quite a lot of wood chips by the time the job is done.

Thanks again,

Eric
 
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I would not smother or remove the asparagus. Replacements will need several years to become established & large enough to eat. It is a sturdy plant. Wood chips bruising the emerging spears? Hard to imagine that would be much of an issue. Not that it couldn't happen but some potential minor damage seems like a small price to pay for saving an already existing bed. I use straw & leaves as asparagus mulch but wouldn't worry much about using a couple inches of uninfected wood chips instead. Absolute worst case I'd dig up the asparagus, remove the weeds, then replant the asparagus. I've moved many asparagus. Most survived, even after a brutal winter in containers.

Genetic diversity is generally a good thing. Several varieties growing here but I can't tell the difference except with the purple ones.

Read about your excessive wood chips a couple days ago. Nice!!!




 
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Not really wood chips but , while moving a pine firewood pile from against a barn last year , I noticed what looked like an 8 ft. tall asparagus plant growing up the wall behind the wood. Sure enough , when I got down to the last row of now rotted logs on the ground level, I found this very old, massive asparagus plant. Along with the associated fungus. So it seems that at least one old asparagus liked pine logs and fungus !
 
Eric Hanson
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Miles,

Sounds like you accomplished what I intend to do.  I want to get some synergy going between asparagus and fungi via woodchips.

Eric
 
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I have put about 6in woodchips on (green) asparagus before, and can't say that it damaged the spears coming up. It did indeed produce lovely soft soil within the year.

However, I started to get asparagus beetle: the spears would curl and have little black eggs on them. I was told that asparagus beetle overwinter in the woodchips, where there are less predators than in the soil, where they usulally overwinter. Now I only mulch in summer with grass clippings, which get absorbed before winter.
 
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