Asparagus: how to grow your own crop

Asparagus is a perennial veggie that commands high prices in the supermarket.

If you love these tender green spears and you’re planning to stay put for a decade or more, planting a patch is definitely worth it – you’ll be harvesting it for years.

It was one of the first things I did after we were settled into our new country garden.

How many plants will you need? About 16 to 20 plants should be plenty for a small family.

How to plant asparagus:

Don’t use seed: Buy crowns – the root system of a one-year-old plant – of male varieties such as Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince, or Jersey Knight. (Female plants expend energy to produce seeds, which decreases the number of spears produced.)

When to plant: Do it in mid spring, and set your patch at the north side of the vegetable garden so other plants won’t get shaded.

More planting tips

  • Dig a furrow about 6″ (15 cm) deep. Old-timers recommend planting twice as deep, but new research shows that fewer spears are produced with deeper planting. Set crowns 18″ (46 cm) apart and rows 3′ to 4′ (about 1 meter) apart.
  • After planting, fill the furrow to its original soil level. Don’t pack soil down too hard or you might injure the buds of emerging spears. Spears should show within a week or two.
  • Asparagus is drought-tolerant but will need extra watering during the first couple of months if there isn’t enough rain. Mulch with a 3″ (7.5 cm) layer of straw.
  • In fall, after the ferny foliage turns yellow and brittle, cut it back and, to keep the bed fertile, spread a layer of compost or well-rotted manure at least 1″ (2.5 cm) thick over the bed. Finish off with a new layer of straw about 3″ (7.5 cm) thick.
  • Keep the bed weed-free for years of edible pleasure from your patch.

Harvesting your asparagus crop

This next bit of information will put off the instant-gratification crowd, but aren’t good things worth waiting for? Since they’re going to be in place for years, asparagus plants need two growing seasons to get established. Those first tempting spears have to open up into ferny leaves that produce the food the plants need to get their strength up and running.

For picking, follow the 2-4-8 rule: Pick for two weeks in the third year, then four weeks in the fourth year, and eight weeks in subsequent years. Just snap off the upper 7″ to 10″ (18 to 25 cm) tender green portion. Harvest all spears that come up during the harvest period and then allow the rest to leaf out.