Home-Grown Asparagus

Home-Grown Asparagus

Warning: Once you taste your own fresh, home-grown asparagus, you will never be able to eat canned or frozen asparagus again. Even fresh asparagus in stores will pale in comparison.

“We call it investing in the future,” says Cliff Bennett, co-owner of Chet’s Garden & Pet Center in Grants Pass. Asparagus is sold bare-root in late winter, usually two-year-old rootstalks, but, sadly, it will be two to three years before you’ll take that life changing bite of tender, succulent asparagus.

Asparagus plants may be either male or female, but best for eating are all-male cultivars. “Females set up flowers and seeds, but not good stalks,” says Esther Lee, customer service representative at Grange Co-op in Medford. The grange offers ‘UC-72,’ a variety with good disease resistance, high yield and large, uniform spears, she adds. And ‘UC-72’ is better adapted to the Rogue Valley’s cooler springs because it bears later in the season. Other good varieties for this region are ‘Jersey Giant’ and ‘Jersey Knight’ which is a darker, purple color.

Asparagus thrives in a light, soft soil full of organic material, planted in full sun. Good drainage is critical. Wet, soggy soil will rot the plants so if your garden is in a poor drainage area, consider planting in raised beds, suggests Lee. Begin by digging trenches from 10 to 14 inches deep and 4 to 6 feet apart. Enrich the soil at the bottom of the trench with organic material and chicken manure and soak well.

“Build what we call small cones in the bottom of the trench about a foot apart,” adds Bennett. Spread the roots down over these cones. Crowns or tops should be about 6 inches below the top of the trench. Cover with soil and organic material. Lee recommends top dressing with straw or leaf compost, which in future years will keep the stalks tender and extend the harvest.

That’s it for the first year. Let the roots grow and, in late fall, top foliage will die back. You can either leave it be or cut it off, much the same as bulb foliage, says Bennett. Don’t disturb the roots. Next spring, work an organic fertilizer carefully around new crowns. You might get a couple of nice stalks to eat the second year. Cut these off with a sharp knife above the crown and enjoy, but don’t get carried away harvesting just yet.

Redress with organic material again in spring. Plants will continue to spread and multiply off the rootstalk. The third year when stalks are 6 to 8 inches tall and peeking up through their straw bed, either break off cleanly or cut with a sharp knife above the crown. New buds in the crown will produce more spears. You should be able to enjoy fresh asparagus from March through June, according to Lee. Even better, with regular feeding, watering and weeding of your plants “you will have fresh asparagus for the next 50 years,” says Bennett. That’s a pretty good return on your investment.

Asparagus is a lovely ornamental addition to your garden as well. It has ferny, feathery foliage on tall, graceful stems and attractive seedpods on female plants. But don’t cut too much foliage for your flower arrangements because it feeds the roots.

Beautiful, good to eat and long lasting — what more is there? Asparagus has it all.

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