Asparagus is an easy to grow vegetable that offers a good source of vitamins and a whole lot of flavor. This is a short production plant so the focus here is on growing enough to preserve throughout the year.
Here in Zone 8, asparagus shoots grow for a 2-3-week period in March. The rest of the time the plants produce fuzzy foliage and they make beautiful ornamental plants. In this article, we discuss how and why you should grow Asparagus.
How and Why to Grow Asparagus
Asparagus is root but we eat the newly sprouted branches of the plant as they emerge from the ground as spears. If you wait too long the spears begin to open and they become frilly plants. This is why the harvest season is so short – Any emerging spears turn into foliage quickly.
Nutritional Data on Asparagus
A single cup of raw asparagus offers 27 calories, five grams of carbs, and three grams of protein. These are vegetables that are added to other things or as side dishes.
They are great for the home garden because they offer 20 percent of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamin A, 13 percent for vitamin C, and 16 percent for iron for those on a 2,000-calorie diet. In terms of overall health, this is a healthy food. It has zero fat not a lot of sodium and it even offers three percent of the RDA for calcium.
If you are trying to address your overall health status, foods such as asparagus can be a beneficial part of a weight loss program because it is low in calories has plenty of fiber and no fat.
Hypoids or not to Hybrid
Before you go and buy a bunch of asparagus crowns, do a little research. Some of the newer hybrids are much easier to grow than are the old-standard stock. We prefer the old standard stock but then we have had it for years and understand it.
The new hybrids can be beneficial because they are disease resistant, but they also do not produce additional plants. This means that every so often you will have to buy more plants to replace the ones that are either not producing or that have died.
You also have to be aware of the balance that is needed between what you can harvest and what must be left to become leaves. It is these frilly and fuzzy leaves that feed the crowns. The more food the crowns receive the better the harvest is (generally) the following year. Plants store energy for future growth.
Also, some crowns may not produce harvests for up to three years. This is more of the old stock and less of the hybrids. This is another reason why we love the older stock over the hybrids – The beds produce new plants each year.
We then remove the new plants to a new bed and let them mature at their own rate. The system we have keeps us in new plants without adding cost and as mature plants die, they are replaced with crowns that are ready to produce.
While there are many advantages to using the hybrids, they are all male plants and will not produce new plants. What that means is that you will have to invest in new plants every so often. When properly cared for, asparagus plants can thrive for as long as a quarter century.
Also, plan for your asparagus and make sure the bed is ready before you order the plants. Usually, you can only find crowns for sale in the spring – March, and April though sometimes as early as February. This may change from one location to the next.
How to Grow Asparagus
Even before you prepare the soil for growing asparagus, you must remove all of the competing plants from that area. This includes grasses and weeds as asparagus do not thrive and may die if they must compete with weeds.
Many weeds are fast growing and they are able to outproduce asparagus for nutrients and water. This might seem like it is an exaggeration, but it is not. We tend the asparagus patch every three weeks and remove weeds as soon as we can see them.
The soil should be loose and full of aged organic compounds. A nice, dark, loamy soil is preferred. The loose soil helps the crowns to grow both roots and shoots. We did our beds to two feet depths and add a mixture of sand and aged compost to the bottom 8-12-inches. Then a six or so inch layer of aged compost and garden soil.
On the top of that layer, we add another six or so inches of garden soil mixed with aged compost. We aim for a 50:50 ratio of aged compost to the garden soil. We do not use potting soil as it tends to dry out too quickly. For the sandy base aim for a 30:70 ratio of sand to compost. The crowns need to be planted around six inches in depth.
If you are planting hybrids they can often thrive in soil that is only 1-foot deep. Prepare your beds ahead of time and to the specifications of the type of asparagus crowns you want to plant.
Watering and Maintenance
Usually, I encourage planting other crops amid the slower growing crops. In the case of asparagus do not plant other plants in their bed. It is also important that weeding occur often and without the use of tools. This is because the roots tend to grow just under the soil’s surface.
Pulling weeds or using a hoe or other garden tool and significantly damage the asparagus’s root system. This is also why weeds must be removed often. A weed that is allowed to send down deep roots can damage the asparagus and when you pull that weed you will probably lose part of the asparagus plant, too.
Like cranberries, asparagus is a bog plant. It likes and needs a lot of moisture. The originals were found in the margins of bogs. This is the place where the soil is wet and in areas where there may be some flooding due to tidal flow. These are not quite emergent plants – plants that thrive in water or out. Water them often and especially when the top of their bed looks dry.
How Much to Plant
It takes about a dozen asparagus plants to produce enough food for your average adult. This means for a family of four 48-55 plants is needed. More is needed if you plan to freeze part of your harvest. If that is the case, aim more for 18 or so plants per person.
How much Space do Asparagus Need
Asparagus tubers are called crowns and the crowns need a great deal of space both in width and depth. Plant the crowns 1 ½ feet apart and in a container or garden bed where the soil is around 2-feet deep. Make sure that you work the soil to the 2-foot depth so that the roots have an easy time of expanding.
They say that the roots of a tree are very close in size to the canopy. That same is true of asparagus. They need the space to put down roots in order to thrive.
If planting rows, make sure that the rows are 3-4 feet apart. It does require space to grow asparagus in quantity.
Storing Your Harvest
Freshly cut asparagus lasts for about a week in the fridge. We put water in a pint-sized Mason jar and add ¾ of an inch of water and then put the freshly cut asparagus into the jar. Cover with a paper towel or a recycled plastic bag and they last for a week.
If you want to store your harvest for 6 or so months, then freeze them. You will need to blanch the spears. Once the blanched spears are cool place them into freezer bags and then into the freezer. Another option is to can asparagus, but we warned they tend to become overly soft and mushy when canned.
Tip: When you trim the ends before you blanch the spears, save them. Put them in a bag and freeze them with other vegetable trimmings as these all help to make fresh broth amazingly tasty and easy.
Even though the growing season is short, asparagus makes a wonderful addition to home gardens. Not only are they easy to grow, they can save you a ton of money as asparagus are expensive in the stores.
The easy preservation method via blanching means that you can grow and preserve your harvest well into the year. The non-fat low-calorie vegetable is a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The big deal here is that asparagus can add a lot of flavor to foods. If you only want to add a few bunches to your spring menu, you can grow asparagus in a medium-sized container. This is a crop that we love and it is a central ingredient in our spring, summer, and fall diets.
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