Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
I am having asparagus for dinner tonight, I love it. It is the first crop in my garden that is ready to eat. If we get a little more rain and a little more warmth the asparagus patch will be cranking out plenty of goodness for me to enjoy. When did I plant the asparagus? Three years ago. And it is definitely worth the wait.
If you want to grow asparagus you need to be willing to make a long-term commitment. It is a perennial plant, a plant that grows back year after year. Once you get it growing, it will keep growing for many years. One of my neighbors has an asparagus patch that was planted by her mother-in-law decades ago and it is still producing. Because it is such a long-term commitment it is smart to do a little planning and preparation to be sure to get it right. Remember, you'll be living with your asparagus for years to come.
Planting asparagus is different from planting other vegetables. It is usually grown from "crowns" rather than from planting seeds. An asparagus crown is the root system of an asparagus plant that has been grown to be transplanted. It looks like what it is, a bunch of roots. The roots come together to form "buds" at one end. Crowns are available at better garden centers, online and via mail order. Look for crowns that are one year old. "Jersey Giant" or "Jersey Knight" are good varieties for our climate.
To plant the asparagus crowns you need to begin with a furrow that is six to eight inches deep. Plant the crowns with buds up, spaced 12 inches apart within rows. After placement in the furrows, cover the crowns with two to three inches of soil. As the asparagus begins to grow, gradually fill in the furrow as the shoots emerge. The shoots will develop into long fern-like stems. By the end of the first season, the furrows should be entirely filled in, although the developing asparagus fern should never be buried.
As your new asparagus patch is growing, be sure to keep it well-watered, especially in the first few years. An annual springtime application of good fertilizer, raked lightly into the ground, all up and down the row or rows, is needed. A second, mid-summer side dressing with a high-nitrogen fertilizer is also good. In the fall, just let the plants die back naturally.
Next year you can cut back the old ferny stems and wait for the new spears to appear. This is very important: do not try to cut any spears the first year! This is a long-term proposition: the plants need a chance to develop a strong root system. It is a good idea to limit the second year harvest to the first two weeks of spear production. When you finally do get to harvest, cut the wanted stalks just below the soil surface. Try not to cut above ground, but definitely do not cut deep or you will damage the crown.
Cooking asparagus is easy. I use a frying pan with a lid. Put some water into the pan, just enough so that it will partly cover the asparagus and heat it until the water starts to boil. Put the asparagus into the pan and cover with the lid. The asparagus should cook until it is just tender, probably five minutes will work. Over-cooked asparagus is a slimy and terrible thing. Don't ruin it by cooking it too long! When it is tender, pull it out of the pan and drizzle a little butter on it and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. It is goooooooooood! If you are hungry for it now, it is available now at the local farmer's markets. The locally-grown asparagus is fresher and sweeter than the stuff that has been stored and shipped all over the country. And remember, with just a little planning and a little work, you will have a successful long-term relationship (with asparagus).
If you have gardening questions or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at
Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis.