Maintaining Asparagus In Your Garden

We were lucky when we bought Spruce Acre in Ithaca, N. Y., 15 years ago. The former owner had left us a healthy asparagus bed of 100 plants. Since then, I’ve wondered why so many gardeners ignore this vegetable. 

Does preparing the bed sound complicated (your state agricultural college can give you advice)? Don’t you want to wait the three years it takes the bed to produce a healthy supply?

Maintaining AsparagusPin

The wait is worthwhile. Once the vegetable comes of age, it produces for many years.

During the 15 years our bed has been produced, I have learned a few things about maintaining an asparagus bed. Perhaps I sound fussy, but the results more than repay me for my work.

How To Maintain An Asparagus Bed

Leaving Stalks Standing

Usually, I leave the stalks standing until spring, simply for convenience. Commercial growers disk them into the ground to supply humus, but this is not practical on a small scale, so I cut them with a sickle, rake them off and burn them.

Applying Fertilizer

I apply fertilizer every spring and ground limestone every second or third year. You may use any complete fertilizer like 5-10-5, 10-10-10, or 6-12-16 (be sure the numbers add up to at least 20, or you pay for a batch of material that is worthless as a plant food). 

I use about 40 pounds of 5-10-5 per 1000 square feet and about the same amount of limestone. The spring feeding stimulates top growth during the summer so reserves are stored in the roots for the next year’s crop.

Using Tractor Cultivator

When I cultivate, I bear down hard on the tractor cultivator handles to kill weeds and aerate the soil. The cultivation helps warm the earth and start growing and makes food available to the crop; it does not harm the roots.

For Appearance And Controlling Quackgrass

Partly for appearance and partly to control quackgrass which occasionally creeps in, I use a half-round edger to square the bed each spring, then spade quackgrass out of the loose soil of the bed.

Applying Organic Matter

Organic matter holds moisture, makes the soil more workable, and improves the yield. Every season I put about four wheelbarrow loads of sawdust on my 100 plants. 

It decays gradually and adds humus as it is worked into the soil. Substitute peat moss if sawdust is unavailable. Or cover the bed with leaves in the fall.

Weeds Are Not A Serious Problem

About the middle of the growing season, I cut all the spears to the ground and went over the bed with the cultivator. I’ve tried Crag Herbicide a few times, but it must be applied before the weeds start to be effective. 

After the cutting season, the tops soon form a solid mass that shades the ground and discourages weeds.

Trouble With Insects

I have relatively little trouble with insects, though asparagus beetles strike now and then. Stalks attack curl as they grow and become tough and unpalatable. To get rid of the pests, I cut most of the asparagus, and after the beetles have congregated on what is left, dust it with rotenone.

First Spears

Here in central New York, the first spears appear between April 20 and May 10. After that, I harvest about every day until mid-June. After that, we eat all we can, give some to friends, freeze enough for winter use and sell whatever is left over.

44659 by Hugh L. Cosline