Here I am, always talking about how amazingly little work this gardening method requires, and here is yet another undertaking which requires a bit of work. But once established, a bed of asparagus will produce abundant crops for about 25 years, with hardly any work. All it takes then is a spring dressing of a bit of lime, occasional irrigation, a bit of weeding now and then, and harvesting.|
There are two good reasons for growing asparagus. The first is that asparagus is the earliest vegetable to mature in the garden, usually in the latter half of May, when we're just setting out our tomato seedlings. The other is that it is a gourmet's delight, and rightly so. And while we're at it, we might as well add a third reason: it fetches a pretty price at the farmer's market.
Asparagus is a bit tricky to grow in our wet winter climate, as all the water comes at the wrong time for asparagus, which could rot its roots in sodden soil. However, since we get considerably less rain hereabouts than in the rest of BC, this is not nearly as much a problem as elsewhere. One could almost say that we have an almost ideal climate here for asparagus, and indeed, much asparagus is grown very successfully on the South Island.
If you have really well drained soil on a slope, you have no problems at all. Rich organic soil over a deep sand or gravel base (minimum 6" deep) is required if your drainage is not excellent. A bed 20 feet long will do very nicely for a family of four, and this can be doubled if you like to share your bounty with family and friends, or make a bit of extra income at the farmer's market.
On really well drained soil, dig a trench about 18 to 20 inches deep. Add 20 lbs. of dolomite lime and 20 lbs. of rock phosphate to the soil as you dig it out, to mix it well with the soil. This is best done by sprinkling it on the ground in the trench repeatedly as you go along to assure a good mix. The trench should be about 18 inches wide, and the soil is best piled up neatly beside the trench, because we'll need it to cover up the asparagus in stages as it grows.
Set out two year-old asparagus roots from your garden centre, crown up and spaced 12 inches apart. Cover with about 1 1/2 inches of soil. As the young shoots grow up, keep covering the shoots with soil to within one inch of their tops, thus slowly filling the trench. If you have spare soil, you can add a one foot high mound over the shoots, which is a very good idea since it will yield much longer white asparagus spears. To conserve moisture during summer and fall, and to suppress weeds, mulch with seaweed, or with any other mulch, and fertilize this with seaweed fertilizer. Asparagus loves salt, and the 72+ trace elements in the seaweed fertilizer will keep your asparagus, as well as you and your family, in supreme health.
Irrigate as needed, as asparagus needs abundant moisture in the summer season to do well. Manure heavily in the fall, and cut off all tops when these turn brown. Do not harvest in the first year after planting, but continue to feed abundant nitrogen, chicken manure is great, and provide constant moisture during summer and fall. Harvest lightly in the second year after planting, and fully in the third year, and from then on. Every two years, add 10 lbs. of agricultural lime, and 10 lbs. of rock phosphate to a 20-foot bed. Feed heavily, again chicken manure is best, after each harvest for maximum growth, and root and shoot development.
That is all there is to it, unless you have heavy muck or clay soil, In that case we have to provide rapid drainage and build a raised bed, which is a good idea anyway, over a 6 inch deep gravel bed. It is also best to orient the asparagus bed with the slope, rather than across it, to reduce the catchment effect of a raised asparagus bed. A little "curtain drain" ditch across the top of the bed will also help much to divert run off water.
On very shallow top soil, we can build a raised bed with one-foot-high board-enclosed sides (no red cedar), with a 1 to 1 1/2 - foot mound on top of that. For this, the base of the bed needs to be about 3 feet wide. For raised beds, watering needs closer attention, since they have larger surface areas to evaporate moisture. Trickle irrigation in summer and fall is by far the best way of keeping asparagus beds nicely moist. And watering with dirty dishwater is the best way of all, since it provides both moisture and the perfect fertilizer at the same time.
Seems a bit much to got to all this trouble, but a well-made bed will produce abundant asparagus for 25 years, and in spring, when most other things are just getting underway. Next, and for a change of pace, we'll have a look at some hardy winter and early spring-blooming perennials, shrubs and trees.
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