It is difficult to appreciate asparagus until one has had the pleasure of taking fresh spears directly from the home garden, rinsing them off and then preparing and serving them in a matter of minutes. Simply steamed or prepared in sauces or even as components of more complex dishes the delicacy of fresh asparagus is a treat that many never experience.
But, grow this vegetable in the home garden and anyone can experience the goodness of asparagus regulary every spring. This is because asparagus is a hardy perennial that produces year after year after year every season except the first, during which the plants are establishing themselves.
Asparagus grows well in zone six and particularly well in New Jersey, as the names of the crown stock we recommend instantly reveal. Our suggestion is to avoid seed and instead start directly with crowns of the Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and Jersey Supreme varieties, widely available through seed catalogs everywhere. Crowns are more reliable bed starters and can be placed exactly where wanted without the need of thinning or secondary transplanting.
As soon as the potential bed had dried out and warmed to the point where it can be worked, turn it over and while doing so work in lots of compost. Asparagus likes a light soil full of nutrients and compost helps create that environment.
With a hoe make trenches 6 inches deep at least 3 feet apart. In the bottom of each trench place a thin layer of bone meal and hardwood ashes to supply the new plants with the phosphorus that makes their growth really take off. The wood ashes will supply this short term and the bone meal over a longer period of time. Mix these nutrients with the soil in the bottom of the trenches using a weeder or similarly tined tool.
Do not plant the crowns until the soil temperature is consistently at fifty degrees f or more. Simply rake the soil over them, completely filling the trench with loose soil – do not tamp the soil down. It is unnecessary to fill the trenches in gradually as the foliage grows, despite what you may read.
Water consistently throughout the first season and resist the temptation to harvest the first spears as this will inhibit subsequent growth. Keep the asparagus bed weeded. As the fern like plants develop allow them to do so and keep them intact until they have browned completely. Cut them down only after the first hard frost.
From the second season on you may harvest with impunity. To harvest, simply cut or snap the 8 to 9 inch spears off approximated level with the soil. Cutting beneath soil level, despite being frequently recommended does not improve plant health or yield, and might damage the crowns.
A good rule of thumb is to harvest spears for two weeks in the second year, 3 weeks in the third and for 4 weeks in subsequent seasons.
Now that you see how trouble free asparagus growing can be, contact your local garden supply store or run to your seed catalogs. Today is the best time to start!
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