Asparagus: A Homegrown Delicacy

    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • English daisies are an early-blooming perennial with showy red, pink or white flowers just in time for Valentine’s Day! They will bloom all spring in partial shade.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.

Asparagus Time

Each year, when spring rolls around, the asparagus bed comes to life. Around April 1st, the rich green spears start poking their heads up out of the bare soil, reaching for the light. Every day a few more points appear and anxiously we await the harvest of one of our favorite crops.

Asparagus takes a lot of work initially, but it is not difficult to maintain an established bed. Plants can live for 20 years and produce many pounds of spears, so it is important to start them off right.

Soil should be rich, loose, well-drained and located in full sun. Add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost and rock phosphate dug deeply into the soil: double-digging will greatly benefit asparagus.

Start by transplanting 2-year-old roots into your garden. Dig a trench 12 inches deep and place roots 18 inches apart, spreading out the roots around a small mound.

Set roots deep enough to cover the crowns with 2 or 3 inches of soil. Initially, cover them with only one inch of soil. When shoots begin to come up, add soil around them until the trench is filled. Then add a four to six inch layer of mulch to keep the weeds down, and maintain the high soil-moisture content necessary for best production.

Asparagus need plenty of water, especially the first growing season. Keep the soil wet at least 8 inches deep.

In July, side-dress the plants with 5-10-10 fertilizer or compost, and cultivate lightly into the soil. Keep the bed well weeded as the crowns are getting established, and maintain a thick mulch through the summer.

In the fall place a 3-inch layer of manure around the plants. Or, if you’d rather, remove the mulch and apply a balanced fertilizer at about 2 pounds per 100 square feet then replace the mulch.

Leave the dried tops until spring when they can be broken off and composted. An important part of asparagus culture is allowing the ferns to mature during the first and second year. This green foliage is needed to promote strong roots. Vigorous top growth in one season is the best assurance of good yield the next.

Harvest begins when the plants are three years old. The first harvest will last only a week or two. In later years, cutting may continue for 6 to 8 weeks.

The first spears will push their way up when we are still having frosty nights here in Willits. So be sure to protect these tender shoots from frost.

There are different varieties of asparagus and you may want to try more than one. ‘Mary Washington’ is the most popular variety with heavy yields of long, straight spears with tight tips. The sweet, tender spears have gourmet flavor and a 60 day cutting season.

UC 157 is a hybrid developed at UC Davis. It has deep green, smooth cylindrical spears, and early spring production. This variety produces higher yield than older standard varieties.

‘Jersey Knight’ Asparagus is a variety that grows only male plants. The stalks are much larger , and they yield 3-4 times more top quality asparagus than any other variety.

‘Sweet Purple’ has deep-burgundy spears and a higher sugar content than green varieties. The spears are generally larger and much more tender than standard varieties.

Homegrown asparagus is really a delicacy. There is little comparison with the store-bought vegetable of the same name. So do yourself a delicious favor, and plant an asparagus bed this winter.

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