Species: Asparagus officinalis
Recommended to start not from seed, but from roots (crowns)
Conditions: Plant at the back of the vegetable garden, on the North side, since the fronds will grow up to 6 feet tall in late summer. Rich soil, close to neutral (pH 6.5-7). Full sun is preferable, but light shade will be tolerated.
Calendar for Hardiness 6B
November – March
Cooking: From pickled or frozen.
First year: For the impatient gardener (or anyone really), I recommend starting with asparagus roots (also called crowns), because the waiting time between sowing asparagus seed and harvesting the first spears is between three and four years! Order anytime from a catalogue or on-line, and the company will send the crowns at the right time to plant for your gardening hardiness zone. Some nurseries carry crowns in early spring, as well.
April – June
Cooking: Steam, quickly boil, stir fry, pickle, or blanch and freeze.
Start: In mid-April, dig to a depth of about 30 cm (1′) in an area chosen as explained above, removing rocks; fill back up to 15 cm (6″) below the ground level with top soil amended with manure or compost. Make a mound of soil and compost/manure mix about 7.5 cm wide and 5 cm in height (3″ and 2″, respectively) for each crown, separated about 45 cm (1.5′) from each other. Spread one crown on top of each mound, root ends pointing outward, and spreading them over the mound. Cover crowns with more soil, around 5 cm (2″) above the crowns, and water.
Care: Keep moist, and top with more soil as the spears start to show. Continue filling to soil level as the spears grow taller. Mature plants (5 years or older) may be divided and re-planted.
Harvest: The first year, there is no harvesting; let the spears grow tall and develop into fronds. The second year spears may be harvested for a couple of weeks by cutting them at soil level with a very sharp knife. The third and subsequent years, harvest for up to eight weeks, or stop when the spears grow thin as pencils.
July – August
Cooking: Enjoy as in spring if cultivating summer crops (see below).
Harvest: For a summer harvest, let one or two mature plants grow fronds in spring. In early July, cut down all fronds to the ground; they will begin producing new spears, which may be harvested as in spring. Keep on this schedule until plants weaken, then restore spring schedule for a couple of years.
Care: Continue caring. Let fronds grow and add manure or compost. Some support might be needed, especially in windy conditions.
September – October
Cooking: From frozen or pickled.
Gardening: When temperatures start to drop near freezing, cut fronds to the ground, sprinkle manure or compost and cover with a thick layer of mulch.
Guelph Millennium (Vesey’s or West Coast Seeds)
Jersey Knight from local nurseries
Asparagus spears in early May 2016. They were planted from crowns near the Northern fence in 2013, where they get plenty of sun and protection from strong winds.