Growing (Delicious) Asparagus

Is easy, asparagus being a crop that offers fabulous returns for very little work. Admittedly, it’s a project to plant, involving the preparation of a deep trench and lots of good soil to fill same. But you only do THAT once every 15 to 20 years; in between there is nothing but semi – yearly maintenance: spring mulching; fall cleanup and fertilizing. That’s it, unless you count harvesting.

I don’t. Picking asparagus is not work. Neither is cutting the beautiful tall ferns to enhance summer bouquets.

In short, assuming you plan to stay put for a while, there is just one thing about asparagus that can be a deal breaker: It isn’t small. A row generous enough for 4 people to pig out all season takes about 30 x 3 feet and that’s a substantial chunk of real estate.

On the other hand, asparagus needn’t be in the vegetable garden. The ferns are handsome enough to make it a suitable background for roses, say, or you could use it to mask a pool fence… or

Anything that lets you grow your own. Truly fresh asparagus is right up there with truly fresh peas, a vegetable apart.

Variety also matters, though this is one case where just about all of them are tasty – differences mostly come in looks , yield, and disease resistance. Only one, the new(ish) Purple Passion, is substantially sweeter than the others. It’s also reputed to contain less of the compounds that some smell in urine ( Not everyone pees asparagus pee; and of those who do, not all of them can smell it. )

I asked Bill what kind he planted when he set ours, 13 years ago. “Whatever they were selling at the Agway,” he said. “Jersey King, maybe, or maybe it was Martha Washington.” So much for being fussy about varieties. Whatever we have is plenty tasty enough, but it is highly variable… and there are so many female plants I think it’s probably old standard Martha, even though early releases of J. King were not as all-male as promised.

More serious truck gardeners would have dug up and discarded the less spear-productive females – easy to distinguish because they have berries – but we have so many plants (about 75 feet of row; it’s a long story, mostly about greed) that we haven’t bothered. Even now when I’m getting ready to plant some Purple Passion, I’ll just put it at the end of one of the rows we already have.

We’ll get our Purple Passion from Nourse Farms , the same place we got the strawberries extolled back on May 1st. An alternative source is Pinetree Garden Seeds. The Nourse website has good planting instructions, complete with diagrams.

Our neighbor Dan’s Purple Passion, just starting

He offered to weed when he saw the camera, but I told him the unexpurgated version was probably more inspiring. Once it gets well established, asparagus is not easily discouraged by a little competition.

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