Asparagus: A Perennial Vegetable
Asparagus is a crop that requires a bit of planning because it grows back every year. This may be one reason that it is becoming more rare in US commercial farming operations: it only provides one crop per year but takes up the space year round. For home gardeners, though, asparagus should not be overlooked. Store-bought asparagus can never compare to the sweet, tender, succulent spears you can easily harvest at home. And, once the initial work of planting the asparagus bed is complete, it will produce vigorously for twenty years or more with only minimal care.
When to Buy and Plant Asparagus
Asparagus is most easily grown from bareroot crowns that are readily available in late winter and early spring. They are usually stocked in garden centers alongside onion sets, seed potatoes and bareroot strawberry plants. Plant them as soon as the soil is workable.
How to Plant Asparagus
- Create a weed free bed, at least three feet wide and as long as you wish, and till in a three inch layer of compost and/or manure. If multiple beds are required, they should be spaced a minimum of six feet on center.
- Dig a 6 inch wide, 8 inch deep trench down the center of the bed. Form a low (2-3 inch high) ridge of soil in the bottom of the trench.
- Plant the crowns 18 inches apart on the ridge in the trench. Be sure to spread the roots out in all directions.
- Initially cover the roots with only about two inches of soil. As the shoots grow, add more soil gradually until the trench has been filled, keeping several inches of the shoots above soil level at all times.
- When the trench has been filled, add a 6 inch layer of mulch to help retain moisture, block weeds and maintain consistent temperature.
Caring for asparagus is simple. Feed it with a two inch layer of compost in spring and again in fall every year. Remove brown foliage in late winter after the plants have gone dormant. Water during the growing season as you would the rest of your garden (one inch per week, on average). Weed the bed as necessary.
When to Harvest Asparagus
The first season is the establishment year, and no harvest should be taken. In the second and later years, begin harvesting when shoots are six inches tall. Cut the shoots at an angle, a couple of inches below the surface. Take only those shoots that are thicker than a pencil. The harvest season is short (between two weeks and one month) but can be frantic, with twice-daily harvests not uncommon. Discontinue harvesting after a month or, at most six weeks, allowing the shoots to grow and feed the roots during the rest of the season. You will soon find that you need more asparagus recipes.
Cream of Asparagus and Spinach Soup
Since asparagus and spinach are cool weather vegetables and they happen to be plentiful in our early spring garden, what better way for us to enjoy both of them together than combined in a soup. This soup is in low in fat, calories and takes less than half an hour to throw together. Both frozen asparagus and spinach work fine in this recipe. Spring is the perfect time to get both veggies fresh at most grocery stores for cheap since they are in season.
Feel free to substitute the sour cream with plain yogurt of creme fraiche: either are good substitutes for the sour cream. If you want to make this dish 100% vegetarian, skip the chicken stock and replace with a low sodium vegetable stock. Enjoy with a piece of toasted, multi-grain bread. Yum!