Homegrown spring delicacy

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Asparagus can offer a healthy harvest in a garden or landscape bed

If you are like so many people today, you are looking for foods that are healthy. I'd like to tell you about asparagus.

This springtime delicacy is low in calories, high in fiber, high in vitamin C and is high in antioxidants. Unfortunately it looses its vitamin C just a few days after picking, and spoils quickly. If you want fresh asparagus to tickle your palette and to provide the most nutritive value, grow your own.

Most people who grow asparagus place it at the end of their garden. The location saves the asparagus bed from being disturbed by tilling or by other means of cultivation. If you don't have a vegetable garden, don't be concerned. Asparagus makes a great addition to a landscape bed around your house.

Asparagus grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Plant it in full sun on the side of your vegetable garden, or as mentioned, plant in full sun inside your landscape beds.

Roots are available as one-, two-, or three-year crowns. All will do well. The older the crown, the sooner you can begin to harvest. Seed can also be sown on top of a ridge.

To build a ridge, dig a trench at least 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Mix the soil removed with peat moss or pure cow manure, in a ratio of two-thirds soil to one-third peat or cow manure. Also add one pound of agricultural lime per 10 feet of trench.

Next place about four inches to six inches of mixed soil back into the trench. Form a ridge with the soil. On this ridge place the asparagus roots so that they straddle the ridge, and place far enough apart so that the root tips touch end to end. Make sure that the crown is placed in an upright position. Cover the roots and crown with about two inches of soil.

Water the roots with a high phosphorous fertilizer, which could have a ratio of nitrogen to phosphorous to potassium such as 9-59-8. Mix according to label directions.

As the shoots grow to the surface, place more of the mixed soil in the trench and again water with 9-59-8. Repeat this procedure until the spears are growing out of a ridge that is two inches to four inches above the surface of the rest of the garden.

Don't harvest any spears the first year. The second year harvest enough spears for a meal or two. The next year and thereafter, you may harvest for a full eight weeks.

After harvest feed the asparagus with 11-15-11 plus micronutrients at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet of bed until September. In October apply a two inch layer of pure cow manure over the bed.

The asparagus bed produces best when it is weed-free. Apply Treflan about March 15 each year to control grassy weeds. Reapply on May 15, July 15, and Sept. 15. If grassy weeds still break through, apply Poast herbicide during the summer after harvest. Be sure to use labeled directions on both herbicides. I discourage hand cultivation because shallow roots can be damaged.

There is one insect that can attack asparagus. The asparagus beetle is metallic blue-black with red and white markings. The adults can winter in debris around the garden. The adults feed and lay eggs on new spears just as they emerge. The eggs are attached singly to the end of the spears. As the ferns develop, the dull black larvae feed on the foliage. These larvae are easily controlled with a permethrin insecticide labeled for food crops.

Planting and growing asparagus can be a rewarding pastime. But the real reward comes in the flavor and healthiness of fresh asparagus on your dinner plate.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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