Isn’t it about time you grew your own asparagus? That nutritious vegetable is not getting any cheaper, and yet it is one of the easiest and most economical to grow. If you plant a plot of asparagus this fall, you may be able to harvest from it as early as next summer and continue to harvest annually from that same plot for the next quarter century, if not longer.
In truth, asparagus grows not in plots but in trenches. The plant thrives in deep, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.
Preparation for asparagus planting involves digging a trench one foot deep and one foot wide. Back-fill the trench with four inches of the original soil mixed with a healthy quantity of aged compost.
Now spread a 5-10-10 fertilizer and cover with two inches of compost- enriched soil. Set asparagus crowns (asparagus stem bases plus roots) 18 inches apart, in rows, and cover the crowns with two more inches of soil. As asparagus shoots emerge, put additional soil into the trench. Follow the progress of the shoots with a gradual elevation of the soil level until the trench is filled in completely. Edible asparagus is a perennial plant in the lily family. It is kin to the asparagus plants used in landscaping – sometimes referred to as asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’) and foxtail asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’). It appreciates growing conditions similar to those of its ornamental cousins; that is, it should receive more shade than sun, along with regular irrigation. Asparagus is a dioecious plant, which means that, when grown from seed, about half the plants will be males and half females. The problem here is that female plants put much of their energy into producing seeds and, consequently, yield spears not nearly as large as their male counterparts.
Due to this fact, male asparagus clones such as “Jersey Giant” have been developed. Still, some asparagus growers plant seeds since seedling plants, several years down the road, may actually be more robust than plants grown from crowns. Asparagus produces two types of growth: the spears that you see on your dinner plate and frizzy, fernlike shoots. These frizzy shoots turn brown during the winter but should not be cut off until spring, allowing the carbohydrate they manufacture to be completely transported down into the roots. For diversity’s sake, there are other perennial vegetables with ornamental qualities that you might want to consider planting this fall. Artichokes are grown commercially in Central California but they will also produce nicely in our own Valley back yards.
The plants have stunning, deeply cut silvery leaves. You can grow them from seed although they are usually propagated – and sold in nurseries – as rooted suckers taken from established plants. Plant in full sun and prepare for a long and abundant harvest from May until September.
Rhubarb, like asparagus, is planted from crowns and needs protection from Valley sun. Leaves and roots are poisonous, so make sure you only eat the petioles (leaf stalks). Rhubarb’s harvest period coincides with that of asparagus, which is roughly eight to 10 weeks during spring and early summer.
If you want a strawberry crop next spring, now is the time to put plants in the ground. You will want to make sure that the soil is rich and well-drained. In common with the other perennial crops mentioned above, strawberries need constant moisture in the root zone during spring and summer to produce maximum yields. < To learn more about these plants, log on to www.myseason.com.
GARDENING TIP OF THE WEEK
If you managed to keep last year’s poinsettia alive until now, you should start giving it the dark treatment it requires in order to color up by mid-December. Each evening at around 5, put it in a closet that is totally dark and that you will not open until the next day. If you allow light in even for one second, the dark treatment will not have the desired effect. Take the poinsettia out at 7 or 8 a.m. Return it to the closet that night and remove the following morning. Continue with this dark/light regimen until the bracts (leaves surrounding little yellow flowers) turn color.