Asparagus

AT A GLANCE

Botanical Information

Family: Lily Height: 5 to 6 feet A/B/P, Hardiness: perennial Spacing: 2 plants per 4 squares

Growing Season

Spring: yes Summer: yes Fall: no Winter: no

Seed to Harvest/Flower: 3 years Seeds Storage: 3 years Weeks to Maturity: 12 weeks Indoor Seed Starting: 10 to 12 weeks before last spring frost Earliest Outdoor Planting: 2 to

4 weeks before last spring frost Additional Plantings: not needed Last Planting: not needed

Description

Fresh, tender asparagus spears from the spring garden have no rival in the supermarket. When you invest in an asparagus plant, consider the location very carefully, as it can last for up to 20 years. Asparagus plants are either male or female. Male plants are the most desirable as they are the most productive and do not set seed. Don't harvest from first-year plants, and only sparingly from the second year. Three-year-old plants are considered mature. After the harvest, an asparagus plant is a large, lacy addition to the garden, and the fronds are lovely as filler in bouquets.

Starting

Location: full sun

Seeds Indoors: 10 to 12 weeks before last spring frost. Soak seeds overnight, and plant at least V2 inch deep. Transplanting: 2 to 4 weeks before last spring frost. Seeds Outdoors: After the last frost, plant seeds that have been soaked in water overnight in a hole between V2 and 1 inch deep.

Growing

Watering: Weekly, 1 cup per plant. During dry weather, water twice weekly, 1 cup per plant. Maintenance: As the plant grows, draw soil in from the sides so that it becomes hilled up, as with potatoes. Cut the foliage to the ground in fall as it turns yellow and before the berries ripen. Asparagus self-sows readily, often with less than perfect results.

Basil and Beyond

Harvesting

How: Cut asparagus shoots by inserting a knife 2 inches below the surface of the soil, making a slanting cut. When: Harvest asparagus in late spring, when the shoots are 4 to 6 inches long, for about 6 weeks. Spears taller than 6 inches can be tough. Harvest from mature plants only.

Preparing and Using

Asparagus is best used as fresh as possible, but it can be stored for a couple of days in the refrigerator, standing on end on a wet pad or in a jar of cold water. Asparagus can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, or cooked in casseroles and salads. Tall narrow asparagus kettles are designed to cook the spears upright, immersing the stems while the tender heads steam. Cook asparagus briefly as it can become mushy if overcooked.

Problems

Slugs, asparagus beetle, rust, Fusarium root rot.

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