The last deciduous perennial crop to rush into the ground before spring was asparagus, one of my family’s favourite greens. Several plants have languished in my old garden for years – it’s just too shady for them there.
Still, it was worth transplanting the three best ones, and I supplemented with an extra eight Mary Washington as enormous bare-rooted crowns from my local nursery. I also bought two “Fat Bastard” plus three purple asparagus from a different mail-order nursery.
I was disappointed by the size of the latter’s plants – you can see they’re a fraction of the size of my local nursery’s plants. These cultivars are probably more expensive to propagate, so a direct price comparison is unfair, but I’d incorrectly assumed they too would also be bare-rooted crowns, rather than container-grown ones; in my opinion the latter are never as strong as field-grown plants. It’s why I prefer to buy bare-rooted fruit trees, rather than ones grown in bags. Oh well, I’ll be able to eat the Mary Washingtons a couple of years before the others come into production.
I chose a sunny spot in the new area, a crescent-shape with gypsum added and lots of organic matter. But the organic matter in the bed comprises last season’s mulch from my mulcher and isn’t completely rotted, so I dug through old compost, Rapid Raiser and a generous sprinkle of lime. After that I dug a trench, and partially backfilled with well-composted soil from the old chicken coop, so the crowns and roots aren’t in contact with the fresher material and have ideal conditions at the start. By the time the roots extend into the newer mulch, I figure it will have rotted down. I didn’t add extra lime because the pH of the soil from the old chook run is suitable (asparagus prefers a neutral pH of 6.5-7).
I placed the crowns in the bottom of the trench so they’ll end up about 10-12 cm below the surface, spreading the bare-roots carefully over little mounds. Some people put a layer of old manure in the bottom of the trench to give plants an extra boost; I should probably have mixed Rapid Raiser into the soil at the bottom of the trench but didn’t think of it.
I then covered the crowns with more old chook soil to a depth of about 5cm, and remembered the Rapid Raiser, so I sprinkled it in then.
Instructions for planting asparagus crowns range from 30-60cm apart; I’ve put mine about 35cm apart but this still seems too close, and I remember my grandmother’s asparagus bed as a jungle of enormous plants. I suspect mine will be crowded – what do gardeners who have grown asparagus think? My soil is so loose and friable that I should still be able to transplant a few of them next year if necessary. I’ve left the centre of the bed clear for two log rounds so I can step into the middle to harvest. Well, that’s the plan: if the plants spread too widely, the centre might become inaccessible.
As the spears grow over the next month, I’ll top up the soil (first more good soil, then the mulch, and finally peastraw. You can see the bed just after planting, with the compost, mulch and pea straw piled in the centre, ready to pull down into the trench.
Asparagus cut fresh from the garden is like sweetcorn, or tomatoes: I remember from my grandmother’s garden that it tastes way, way better than the bought stuff. But it’s also very important not to harvest asparagus in its first year after planting, so that strong plants can establish.
Sigh. But the new Mary Washington crowns are so huge I could probably sneak a few spears the next season, and the season after that they should produce a decent crop.
Yum – I can’t wait!