HOW TO MAKE AN ASPARAGUS BED
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Of all the edible crops you are likely to grow, asparagus will probably require the most preparation. And for good reason too, because you could be reaping the rewards of freshly cut asparagus tips for the next 15 or so. Luckily, most of the work is done before you even plant your asparagus plants, after which is it mostly a case of weeding and waiting for your next asparagus crop. Why, because the art of successful asparagus it is all down to making and preparing a decent asparagus bed. The first thing to consider before anything else is where to position your asparagus bed and it will need to be of a reasonable size too as the root system of each plant can extend out by as much as 1 sq/yard! When planting in rows you will need to look at creating an asparagus bed about 4ft wide, however,it can be as long as you like so long as each plant is about 1½ft from the edge of the bed as well as between each subsequent plant. If you are short of space try planting them in a zig-zag pattern to help use your space more efficiently.
Asparagus will thrive in most well-drained soils, but they will need to get full sun for at least six hours per day and a certain amount of protection from strong winds. In exposed areas you will need to put in some type of support to avoid damage to the stems. In preparation for the new crowns (try not to plant anything over two years old as they tend not to transplant rticularly well) you can start in the autumn by thoroughly digging over the proposed asparagus bed area, removing any perennial weeds you come across. You can also consider testing your soil’s nutrient levels and pH at this time as this will help you to determine what type and how much fertilizers your bed will require. Poor levels of nutrition can cause fibrous spears and weak growth while soils with an acidic pH of less than 6.5 can restrict growth or in severe cases even kill the crop itself. If your soil is too acidic, you’ll need to apply the appropriate amount of lime as indicated by your soil test. Conversely, if your soil is too alkaline then you can consider apply ‘flowers of sulfur’ or epsom salts.
If that all seems a bit technical don’t worry, just dig the bed over as thoroughly as possible mixing in plenty of well-rotted farm manure as you do so. You may also wish to add general fertilizers at this point and possibly even apply specialized fertilizers high in micro-nutrients. When adding organic matter try not to go down further than eight inches, especially in clay soil. This can cause anaerobic decomposition within the soil which in turn can easily damage the root systems of your asparagus plants.
THE 'DEEP PLANTING' TECHNIQUE
Once you’ve applied the various remedies to help improve you soil for asparagus production they can be left until the spring. Them after the last of the spring frost you can dig out planting trenches of no less than 10 inches deep and 10 inches wide – any additional trenches should be spaced about 2 ½ ft to 3ft apart. At the bottom of the trench add dig some more well-rotted manure, but also add about one teaspoon of phosphate fertilizer for each foot of the trench. Add another inch of soil on top of this so as to avoid placing the crowns directly onto the fertilizer. Slightly mound the soil down the center of the trench, and you are ready to plant your crowns. Trying not to damage any part of the root system, carefully remove your new asparagus plants from their pots and settle them on the bottom of the trenches about 1½ ft apart. Back-fill the trench until the roots are covered by a couple of inches soil – making sure that the green buds are still above the soil level - and give them a good watering in. Over the summer, continue to gradually back-fill the trenches as the new shoot grow above ground level, but be careful not to cover any of the asparagus foliage.
When the trench is completely filled, mulch around the plants with another couple of inches of organic matter and continue to keep weeds away from the plants root systems. Asparagus have a tendency to "rise" as the plants mature which allows the crowns to gradually grow closer to the soil surface. This ‘deep planting’ technique will encourage a not only a stronger root system, but it will also protect the slender shoots of young plants from damage by strong winds. During their first season, keep newly planted crowns damp and try to avoid them from drying out during hot weather. Although succulent spears may appear soon after they have been planted, try to avoid the temptation to harvest them as you will only weaken the crowns. During their first two years of growth, asparagus plants should really be left to produce as much ferny foliage as possible. Once these have been allowed to die back naturally in the autumn they can be cut down to a couple of inches above the soil level.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE ROOTS!
Most asparagus plants will be ready for harvesting after two years, although there are now several modern varieties have been cultivated for earlier cropping. To harvest spears, wait until they are about 6 inches long and then break them off using a firm twisting motion while holding them near the bottom. If you use a knife or similar blade then you risk damaging the newly forming spears as they appear at ground level. Finish harvesting in mid-June as this will allow the plant to build up its energy reserves for next years harvest. It is also a good idea to give your plants application of general fertilizer or another mulching of well rotted farm manure as this will help enormously with foliage and root production. Without a healthy root system the asparagus plant will be unable to produce anything like the size or quantity of quality spears you would otherwise expect.
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