Everything Asparagus

Asparagus has been grown for thousands of years.  The Macedonians were the first to use it domestically around 200 B.C.  It is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, thiamin and is a nutrient-dense food high in Folic Acid. 

Out of all the vegetables we have grown Asparagus has the most interesting story. For instance did you know that if you plant Asparagus properly they can produce for 15 to 20 years!  You can even grow white asparagus by simply mounding soil over your spears so they grow in the absence of sunlight.  The chlorophyll doesn't have the ability to develop so your spears stay white!  (Pictured below)
This years Asparagus spears (white in color from being covered over the winter) starting to emerge

We love to eat Asparagus so last year we decided to dedicate one of our raised beds to growing Asparagus.  They love well drained conditions and rich soil so a raised bed is ideal.    

We chose to grow Jersey Supreme which are all male cultivars known to produce 25-30% times more than conventional cultivars.  (Female plants spend lots of energy producing berries and seeds so they bear less spears). We ordered (25) certified disease free 1 year old crowns through Gardener's Supply to add to the (4) we had from a previous year.  It is said that 25 crowns are adequate for 2 people. 
Asparagus starting to grow
(May 7th of last year)
Year One: Asparagus should not be harvested the first year after you plant them.  They need all their energy to develop a healthy crown during the first season.  You can see below that last year we left them alone.  They look almost fern like when they grow.  

Asparagus with "fern" growth 
(May 25th of last year)
Year Two: Some research suggests you can harvest them for 2 weeks the second year. Picking 2 or 3 of the thickest spears from each crown. Others suggest waiting until the third year. 
Year Three: Harvest all spears for 4 weeks. 
Year Four: Harvest for as 8 to 12 weeks.  Stop harvesting when half of the spears are less than the thickness of a pencil. 

1. Plant as soon as you purchase them.  In 50 degree soil in the Spring.  Dig a 6" trench and add a high phosphate fertilizer (we used bone-meal).  
2. Plant (1) per 12 x 12 square. Laying the crowns up and covering with 2 inches of soil. 
3. Allow the fern to grow all season keeping the plants well watered. Cut to 12" tall when ferns die naturally in the fall.   

1. The year after planting cut the old ferns to the ground.  Add lime and 5-10-10 per 100 sq. feet.  

Lime added to bed this year
2. We add tomato cages over each crown to help contain the Asparagus ferns.  
Adding tomato cages
3. Then I add the PVC hoops for our row covers.  
Adding PVC hoops to bed

4. Last I put on the row cover fabric. 
Adding the Summerweight Fabric to the PVC hoops to complete the row cover!
I HIGHLY recommend using row covers to keep out Asparagus Beetles. You can read more about row covers in this post I wrote last year:Using Winter Row Covers

Unfortunately I hand-picked at least 20 beetles off the plants each day last year and that was frustrating.  Asparagus Beetles can damage your plants and affect production.  This year I made the row cover taller so it can stay on all year and then we can keep the Asparagus Beetles (see below) from the plants!

I also plant Parsley in the front of the Asparagus bed.  It helps with plant vigor and I was amazed at how well the Parsley produced at the same time!  I harvested the Parsley five times last year.  We start our Parsley indoors from seed and then transplant them in the garden.  They may look like tiny seedlings but they take off fast!
Parsley seedlings (2014)
Parsley growing well in Asparagus bed (last year 2013)
So far we have Garlic, Onions, Lettuce, Parsley & Asparagus growing in the garden.  Good thing these are all cold weather crops.  Just in case I covered the beds with row covers and I am certainly glad because I woke up to find snow on the garden this morning! 


Civilization without Onions?

I have to agree with Julia Child, "It's hard to imagine civilization without onions."  In our household I cook with onions all the time.  They add amazing flavor and taste to dishes.  I discovered that onions have been grown for at least 5000 years or more. They are easy to grow, transport and like a variety of soils and climates. They provide fiber and are high in vitamin C along with other great health benefits. 
This will be the third year that we have grown onions in our garden.  However, this is the first year we have started them from seed indoors instead of buying onion sets at the garden center. We planted the seeds in flats on March 2nd then placed them under grow lights.  (Start them 9-10 weeks before your Frost Free Date). 
Yellow Sweet Spanish Onions (started from seed)
This year we chose Yellow Sweet Spanish.  They are a reliable producer and popular for their sweet flavor.  Known as a long day onion they need 15 hours or more of sunlight and are best grown in the North.  They can be used as a bunching onion which is really nothing more than a young onion planted from seed harvested 30 days after planting (also known as scallions or green onions).  They mature to a one pound globe shaped onion in 95-100 days. 

The week before planting I started by hardening off the seedlings. You can read more about this process by reading my previous post here: Hardening off Seedlings

This past Sunday it was time to plant our onion transplants! Our garden plan for this year is drawn below.  I decided to plant onions in Bed #2 & #4 this year.  I also planted lettuce in Bed #4 that same day. 

2014 Garden Layout
BED #4: Ready for Onions & Lettuce
The easiest way to get the seedlings out of the tray was to use a plastic spoon which scooped them out without destroying the plant.  I planted 9 seedlings per 12" x 12" square using the Square Foot Garden Method.  
Planting seedlings using a plastic spoon 
Seedlings planted!
BED #2:(on left) Planted with 36 Onion seedlings.
 After planting the seedlings I then cover the raised bed with row cover fabric (pictured below) to give the seedlings extra protection from insects, squirrels and frost.  
BED #4:(on right) Currently planted with 19 Garlic, 36 Onion seedlings & 42 Lettuce seedlings.
1. Keep soil consistently moist until bulbs enlarge. One inch of water per week (more for sweet onions). Keep in mind that onions will look healthy even if they are bone dry. When tops start to fall over withhold water. 

2. Cover with a layer of mulch.

3. Fertilize every few weeks with nitrogen for large bulbs. Stop when onions push soil away and bulbing process has started. 
Our harvested Onions last year (along with other veggies)
1. If an onion sends up a flower stalk cut it from the plant immediately or the bulb will be reduced. (From our pictures below you can see that this happened to us last year) That must be why our onions only grew to about 1/2" round. 

2. In May or June onions are sometimes attacked by the onion fly.  You can protect your crop with row covers.  
April 8th 2014
Next week I will plant the Parsley and 2 weeks later Carrots!