Asparagus is my favorite vegetable. I learned to love it when, as a child, I harvested ‘wild’ asparagus with my mother behind our house near a railroad tracks. The asparagus there wasn’t native, but probably remnants of an old patch or it grew there from seeds dropped by birds. Asparagus is native to the coastal regions of Europe and Asia and brought to North America by settlers in the 1700’s. The first vegetable to ripen in our gardens in the spring, it is rich in vitamins, A, B, C, and K, fiber, and antioxidants and low in calories.
In the past, Mary Washington was the variety of asparagus commonly grown in Northern gardens. But Rutgers, a land grant university in New Jersey, has developed superior strains of asparagus, all with ‘Jersey’ in their name, that are mostly male (eliminating the thin female fronds that produce seeds which use up the plant’s energy). These Jersey plants (Try either Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant.) have thicker stalks, are more productive, easier to start, and disease resistant. Other vigorous varieties are Purple Passion and Sweet Purple. These sweet, tender stalks emerge a purple color but turn green when cooked.
Hints for growing….
- Start with good, rich soil because an asparagus patch will last 15 years or more. Amend your soil with generous amounts of compost or well-rotted manure.
- Start with a weed-free bed and keep it weed free. Few herbicides are labeled for asparagus. Shallow hoeing and hand pulling are the safest way to control weeds. A mulch of compost can help keep weeds down.
- To start your patch, buy 2 yr. plants and plant 12” apart in rows.
- Plant 6” deep. Fill in the trench as the sprout emerges. (See diagram)
- Asparagus are heavy feeders. When planting put a high phosphorus fertilizer in the bottom of your trench. Then, fertilize early every spring.
- Don’t harvest the first year and only minimally the second year.