Should You Grow Your Asparagus From Seed?

When we moved our vegetable garden 20 years ago to its present and permanent location, we luckily kept our asparagus bed going in the old garden. 

I say luckily because the asparagus bed in the new garden turned out to be a complete flop. We bought two-year-old roots, and the next spring, there was no growth worth mentioning; the results were the same the following spring. 

Grow AsparagusPin

Then I realized it would never be any good. At that time, I came across a most delightful and provocative book, Gardening with Brains, written by Henry T. Finck, in which a very solid article appeared on asparagus, particularly about growing your roots from seed. 

It interested me that we selected the seeds from the best plants in our old bed in the fall and started the next year afresh.

Choosing An Asparagus Variety

Our experience has been limited to the Argenteuil variety. However, from the very first day, the asparagus from this bed has been so delicious, satisfactory, and attractive that it did not seem worthwhile experimenting with anything else. 

This variety, Argenteuil, tastes better, at least to us, than any other asparagus we have ever tried.

We decided to increase the size of our asparagus bed by 20% percent because we wished to quick-freeze a large amount for Winter use. The problem was whether to use our variety or the rustproof Washington variety. 

To ensure our quality, I went to the Waltham Field Station of the University of Massachusetts and obtained a sample of their Washington variety. 

This and some of our own Argenteuil varieties were cooked and eaten simultaneously. The consensus was that the Argenteuil variety had much better flavor, though Washington was good.

However, as a matter of great interest and as a long-range program, we decided to test the new strains now available.

Where It Was Obtained

So asparagus seed for sowing was obtained from the following:

  • Waltham Field Station, Waltham, Massachusetts
  • The Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of California
  • The University Farm of the University of Minnesota
  • The Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of New Jersey
  • Bedford Farm at Suffolk, England

This, together with seed from the fourth generation of our plants, was started in February 1950 in a greenhouse. 

These were grown under identical conditions, and finally, in the Fall of 1950, they were transplanted into a permanent bed. 

It will take several years to obtain a conclusive answer, but in 1951, when the plants were only a year old, those of California 500, Waltham. Bedford Farm and our own Argenteuil appeared to be the best.

Argenteuil for The Best Taste

Based on information to date, our Argenteuil variety has the best taste, California has the greatest yield, and Bedford Farm is the largest. 

Argenteuil yields, per 100’ feet of row, 600 stalks or about nine stalks, ¾” inch in diameter per plant. 

We like asparagus so much that we would like to have it every day during the season and freeze enough to have it twice a week during the Winter.

Quantity To Grow

To determine how many plants you need, you have to estimate how many stalks you would like to have for each person; multiply that by the number of people and by the times you would like to have asparagus during the season. Then add the quantity you would like to freeze.

Difficulties We Experienced

We have had our bed for 16 years and, so far, have experienced only two difficulties. First, we do have a few asparagus beetles, but they have been so few and have done so little damage that we hardly classify them as a pest. 

We have a certain procedure for them: the small stalks, which are too small to eat, are allowed to grow as they appear. By the end of the season, there may be 100 small stalks in the bed. 

What beetles are collected on these stalks; as soon as the cutting is over, we spray with a mixture of DDT and a combination containing arsenate and copper?

Our other difficulty is more serious; at the end of 15 years, about 53 roots of the original asparagus plants died and had to be replaced. This is 11% percent of the 500 plants.

An asparagus bed should last 15 to 20 years. Once established, the cost and labor of maintaining it are so low, and the yield from it so high, that the cost of making the finest possible bed is justified. 

Once planted, and until you start a new one, perhaps 20 years later, you can do very little to help your plants. Use manure in large quantities, as asparagus thrives on it.

The case history of our present 16-year-old bed of 500 plants in 10 rows, 70’ feet long, runs as follows. For a smaller bed, the figures can be scaled down.

Planting The Seed

February – Sonic 3200 seedlings were started in two flats. About two ounces of seed were used.

April – When the seedlings were two to three inches high and starting to feather, 1600 of the straightest and sturdiest were chosen for the first transplanting. 

These were planted in flats and carried along in the cold frames until the last of June. This required 46 flats, 17x 10 1/2 x 3 inches.

June – Again 1200 were selected as above. These were planted 1 1/2 inches deep in a temporary bed, 10 rows 1/2 feet apart; the plants were set eight inches apart, or 113 in a row. 

The bed, 16 1/2 x 76 feet (1254 square feet), was prepared by spading in well-rotted horse manure and top dressing it with a garden fertilizer  –  a 5-10-10, at the rate of 40 pounds to 1000 square feet, or 50 pounds for the bed.

November – After frost, the plants are mulched with straw for the Winter. The new permanent bed, measuring 30 x 76 feet, was prepared at this time by trenching as follows:

A trench was opened two spades deep (about 18 inches), and the soil was carried to the other end of the bed. Then, another trench was dug alongside the first. 

The topsoil from the second trench was put on the bottom of the first, and a good dressing, about four inches deep, of manure, spread over it and forked in. The subsoil of the second trench was then placed on top of the first trench. 

The entire bed was made this way; the last trench was filled in with the soil taken from the first one.

April – On the first of this month of the following year, 10 trenches were dug in the bed described, each 12” inches deep, 15” inches wide, and 3’ feet apart, center to center. Three inches of manure were spread in the trenches and forked in. 

Eighteen pounds of garden fertilizer, 5-10-10, were added to each trench, or 180 pounds for the entire bed. 

When planting, it is wise to have the soil tested and add the necessary amount of ground limestone. The soil should test for a pH of 6.5 or higher.

April 15 – The 500 best plants were chosen for the final beds. Only enough plants were dug at one time to fill one trench, and they were protected against drying out. 

The roots were planted about 18” inches apart and about 9” inches below the level of the garden; then, they were covered with 3” inches of soil. 

The finished trench was 6” inches below the level of the garden. As soon as the spears started coming through the ground, the soil was thrown in, a little at a time: this continued until the bed was level. 

Two years after we started the seed, we cut a few stalks; the third year, we had a good crop which we cut for only one month. 

This gives the plants a good chance to grow. After that, they will produce a full crop. Ordinarily, we stop cutting asparagus on June 21, when the first garden-grown peas are picked.

Fertilizer Program

At this time, an 0-20-20 fertilizer was broadcast over the bed at the rate of 40 pounds per 1000 square feet and worked with a three-prong cultivator.

June 20 – After the bed was weeded thoroughly, cyanamid was broadcast over the bed at the rate of 30 pounds per 1000 square feet without raking it in. The cyanamid is used to kill the weeds; when spreading it, protect the eyes, as it will sting them.

November 1 – The asparagus canes are cut down, and organic garden compost is spread over the bed, 1/2 inch deep, at the rate of 1/3 cords per 1000 square feet or 14 cords per acre.

November 15 – Farm manure was spread over the bed, 1 1/2 inches deep, at the rate of one cord per 1000 square feet or 4S cords per acre.

The Season Closes

Every two years, enough ground limestone should be applied to keep the pH of the soil at 6.5. As asparagus needs plenty of water, means of watering in times of dryness should be provided.

44659 by Albert C. Burrage, Jr.