Friday, February 25, 2011
Making a Comfy Bed for Asparagus
The first time I actually saw a "real live" asparagus growing out of the ground, I had no idea what it was. We were caretaking a farm in British Columbia at the time, learning a whole new respect for where our food 'came from'. Mentioning this to Malcolm, the farm owner, he said "you mean that old asparagus bed is still producing!". By that time, the crowns had been in the field fifteen years. Within a day, we had the spears cut and steamed....to die for!! So began our love affair with asparagus.
Thirteen years passed before we bought this property but putting in an asparagus bed was at the top of our list. We had help digging the trenches, filling them partly with rich compost, mixing soil with manure, lightening it with sand....ah, memories, family time well spent. We followed directions from a borrowed copy of Readers Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening in Canada although I don't remember reading there, the crowns should be laid on little hummocks of sand but we did that, to prevent crown rot. Our two rows, about four feet apart and 23 feet long, are enough for a family for four. The roots are particularly adverse to wet conditions and if you think you might find them a home in soggy soil with poor drainage.....don't waste your money or effort. They won't put up with constant wet. This is the bed below on May 21st last year but the spears first appeared April 11th.
Variety ....Viking. We like the flavor very much and plants are available locally. Careful not to let the area get weedy, we give a good cover of composted manure early spring, don't walk on the bed except to weed or pick the spears (as the roots don't like it if you do) and usually we also mulch with straw although haven't the last two years. A good reference is here. They like the soil about pH 7.0 so must put some lime on this year as well. Harvesting stops when we don't see them for sale anymore at the farmers market, about July 1st. Anyway..you can kind of tell when they are tired and need to grow on into ferns to replenish the roots with energy for next year's crop.
What you have here is a great looking perennial plant with gorgeous fronds (here seen shimmering in dewy autumn) that will look great the rest of the season after you're done harvesting. If you do flower arranging..this is your Asparagus fern.
It's time now to think about putting a bed in. Yes, a bit of work at the beginning and you will have to wait three birthdays before cutting a full harvest... but you will pat yourself on the back for years to come, grateful that you made the effort.