A couple of months ago I wrote about asparagus, in which I mentioned that it is a fern. I’ve mentioned this to other people, which seemed to really surprise them. I think I can understand why, since I believe that in our day it is easy for us city folk to lose touch with where all the food in the grocery store comes from, and the natural order of things.
Here is a picture of some of the asparagus now growing in my yard
As you might be able to see in my less than professional picture, it is a rather nice delicate fern. This year it has reached over 6 feet in height in my yard and has as intended to some degree obscured view of my neighbor’s ugly fence.
Most growth of new shoots happens in the spring time, but it hasn’t stopped completely yet. So, I am still able to occasionally get a couple of asparagus spears from the garden.
I’ve been thinking about using some fishing line to help hold the ferns up in an upright position. On the left side of the picture you can see that some of the ferns are leaning, which can happen, partly due to the density of the asparagus ferns pushing on each other. I guess I didn’t thin them enough in the spring. I hopefully will remember that for next year and will eat more asparagus.
I happen to live in the state that grows the 2nd largest amount of asparagus in the U.S. So, I figured my climate would be an excellent place to grow asparagus. Personally, I find asparagus to be one of my favorite vegetables. So I wanted to make sure I had plenty of it growing in my garden.
I had a nice southern facing hill with great sun exposure that I terraced, which had an ugly rotten fence at the top. My neighbor insisted that it was their fence and they didn’t need my help replacing it or fixing it. So, I decided to hide it much of the year by growing asparagus plants in front.
I first prepared the area by clearing the planting area and digging down into the clay and rocky soil. I knew that asparagus are heavy feeders, so I laid down a layer of rich compost that I then planted about 25 Jersey Knight and 25 Jersey Supreme asparagus crowns in. A crown is a clump of asparagus roots from a single plant. I then put another 6-8 inches of compost and rich garden soil on top of that. I wanted the roots to have lots of area to spread up to, so the plants would later produce a good amount of top growth.
I chose the Jersey varieties mainly for their reputation of being disease resistant and being suitable for my region. I would hate to spend years getting a good asparagus patch going, only to watch it die away due to disease. These varieties also have the reputation of being all or mostly male plants, but I am not really sure what that implies. Do you?
When I planted the crowns, I spaced them about 12 inches from each other and was careful to spread the roots out from the crown. Then as the shoots grew that first year, I piled a couple more inches of compost up around them, never completely covering them, thereby encouraging even more root growth.
I must have done something right, since the following spring after I planted, the asparagus shoots/spears were coming up as thick as a quarter.
In the picture you can see the asparagus plants I didn’t harvest this spring beginning to open up to their natural fern like form. They get about 5 feet tall and form a nice screen of delicate ferns.
Each crown sends up multiple shoots, which fill in more and more during the spring and summer. I tend to let some grow to full size, while still harvesting some of the later shoots.
In the winter, the asparagus ferns die back and can be removed, which I usually do since dead asparagus ferns aren’t particularly nice to look at.
In my area, asparagus can be harvested from April until June. I find that even the thick shoots have a nice crispness to them, unless they are allowed to grow more than a foot or so tall, at which time they start getting woodier. I find the taste and texture so pleasant that sometimes I will snap off a spear and eat it right in the garden. Hopefully my kids don’t learn this or my asparagus patch could be in jeopardy. When harvesting, you need to keep an eye on how thick the new shoots are that are growing, since it takes energy away from the plant each time you cut the shoots. A rule of thumb I use is that if a new shoot is smaller than the width of a pencil, then the plant as a whole needs time to gather more energy and be left alone.
I discovered in my ongoing reading on asparagus that a purple variety of asparagus has a reputation of being even tastier. I thought it would be kind of fun to have a purple fern plant in my yard. I already had an actively producing patch of green asparagus, so I decided to go with the slower route of growing asparagus from seed. Last year, on the next terraced rows down from my existing asparagus I planted about 50 purple passion asparagus plants.
They still aren’t much to look at, but I am happy to see them growing this spring after surviving the winter. I probably have at least a couple more years before I can harvest any of these.
In long-term care, I top dress my asparagus beds with compost every year or two and weed the areas. Due to the elevated location that I planted in, I don’t see many weeds in the garden bed, so it has been fairly low maintenance. Currently, my biggest concern is my dog running through the asparagus and breaking off the spears. I had to put up some barriers to discourage her from doing that, but once the stalks become woodier, I will take the barriers down.
In landscaping, asparagus makes for a nice backdrop plant. You might want some sort of supporting structure or plant in front of it, since the ferns can droop with time.
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is to stir fry it with a little bit of soy sauce and Worchester sauce. My kids rave about it and look forward to me cooking it. I am really glad they like it, since asparagus is definitely something healthy for them to eat.
Asparagus is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and protein. Asparagus is also packed in the naturally occurring phytochemicals of glutathione (anti-carcinogen and antioxidant), rutin, and folic acid. Rutin has been shown to be vital in its ability to increase the strength of capillaries and regulate their permeability.