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I had read that if people in the household really like asparagus, you should allow for 25 plants per person, so I planned for 50 plants. For me this translated into digging three trenches about 25′ long each.
Preparing the area, I removed all sod from the entire area to help reduce the amount of weeding that I’d be confronted with, and dug trenches about 30″ deep so that I could put old tree limbs, leaves, old sod, etc. As the roots of the asparagus dig deeper, they will find more nutrients from these decaying substances.
I back-filled in with dirt (primarily sand) that I had removed from the trenches until I was about 12″ below grade, then put in 4″ of composted manure for the base for my asparagus plants.
(Click on photos for higher resolution views)
While asparagus will grow from seed, it takes about a year longer to be able to harvest, so in mid-April I elected to purchase 1-year crowns from Miller Nurseries http://www.millernurseries.com. Miller Nurseries had prompt delivery and the crowns were very healthy. Where I had ordered a total of 50 crowns (25 each of SuperMale and Purple Passion), they sent about 10% more – presumably to allow for some not arriving in good health. A couple of them seemed pretty puny, but as long as I had 50 healthy plants I would be pleased. As it is, I have 56 healthy and thriving plants (to my eye).
Although I had read about the crowns, with this being my first experience with asparagus I really didn’t know quite what to expect. The crowns looked a little like a large spider with the crown in the center and the asparagus roots stretching out to create a 16″ circle. I planted the crowns in the center of each trench every 16″ from center of plant to center of plant. Once the crowns were set, I put about 2″ more of the composted manure on top of them.
I was simply amazed when in a matter of days I had asparagus shoots sticking several inches out of the ground, and saw why next spring when I will be able to harvest the shoots for a period of about two weeks the shoots will need to be harvested daily. Within just a couple more days, the asparagus shoots developed fronds and has continued to grow like crazy. You can see in the photo below the new sprout that is hours old next to the fronds that are a few days old. In the spring, the bigger sprouts like this will be cut or broken off just below the soil when they are about 8″ tall and about 1/2″ diameter.
As the plants have developed, I have added more peat moss and composted manure over the roots to where now the level of the dirt is close to even with the walkways that are between the rows. As you can see in the photos, I had terraced the rows since the back part of our property is on a slope.
It has been interesting to watch as the asparagus grow, as my expectation level for the first year was for perhaps each crown to develop a single stalk. The stalks have continued to increase, and now there are two dozen stalks out of a single crown in some instances.
Towards the end of July, one evening I was checking the fronds and was greeted with hundreds of wasps that were so numerous they looked like a swarm of very large mosquitoes. I decided to leave them alone and went back after dark with a flashlight – surprised to see them lined up head to tail on the fronds.
The Charlotte County Extension http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/ informed me that these were male Five-Lined Tiphiids, a type of solitary wasp – probably gathered together to look for females. They allayed my concerns stating that these were non-stinging males, and that the females attack white grubs which are currently in abundance in our yard. Perhaps they will do their job and destroy the food source for the moles that have been having a heyday!
The end of July, some of the asparagus plants began to go to seed. I believe that my Purple Passion seeds may be fertile, but my understanding is that the Super Males will likely be sterile or low producing. The seeds are not important to me – rather the established crowns are.
The seeds started out all as light green, and have been turning to an orange-ish red and then red before falling to the ground.
…Now we watch and wait for spring!
- Mark Zehr