First Up in the 2011 Garden

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Asparagus Seedlings

Asparagus Sprouts

My friends at Common Ground Garden Supply may have shaken their heads at me a bit when I told them we were starting asparagus from seed.  Apparently most people get dried-out, nasty looking year-old roots, soak them in warm water for several hours to rehydrate them and somehow configure the poor, spidery things over a cone of soil, bury them over the winter and hope for the best come spring. I actually tried this! But, no luck. The year-old ‘Mary Washington‘  roots from Yamagami’s didn’t take. I lost the year I would have gained by starting with year-old roots waiting for dead roots who had no intention of sprouting into asparagus ferns. So, when I saw the heirloom ‘Precoce d’Argentuil‘ asparagus seed, I figured it couldn’t  go any worse than the roots had.

First-Year Asparagus Ferns

First-Year Asparagus Ferns

In fact, it went well, I guess. The seeds sprouted. The seedlings grew slowly but by fall they were big enough to set into their composted horse manure amended permanent bed. The stems are fairly spindly, but all asparagus ferns are like that, aren’t they? This picture was taken around Thanksgiving, just before our first frost,  so I think it’s normal that the ferns were starting to yellow. I had expected them to start dying down before then. The books say to clip the dried ferns in the fall but these young’uns were still pretty green at Thanksgiving, so I left them standing where they were.

I checked in on them on New Year’s Day, thinking it would finally be time to clip off the old ferns and clean the bed up a bit, and here’s what I found.

Winter asparagus

Eat It or Leave It?

The first year after the roots are in their permanent bed, you are supposed to take nothing. Let the spears that form grow into ferns to feed the roots. The second year after they’ve been in the ground, you can take any spears that form thicker than a pencil for something like a few weeks. This monster is as thick as a Sharpie, and year-one in the ground or not, I’m thinking about eatin’ him.

Got any recipes that call for a single asparagus spear?

Hoping for Asparagus

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Mary Washington Asparagus Fail

Thin Pickin's

We finally did see two tiny tufted sprouts from the Mary Washington asparagus bed. I was actually about to dig the whole thing up to see what happened to them when I noticed the first one. Chalk it up to the weird wet cold spring. It’s not enough to keep me from over planting the bed in Tarahumara Chokame black beans, Catalina Spinach and Charentais melons. But still, two of the asparagus crowns are alive in there, and I left them enough space (I hope!) to develop through the summer and put down some roots for next year.

Asparagus from Seed

Italian Asparagus from Seed

My real hope is the Asparago Precoce d’Argentuil that I started from seed May 15th. Many of them have sprouted. They are tiny, thin, tall, fluffy things that move in the slightest breeze. I took this picture on the Sports/Action setting and it’s still not totally in focus. I probably breathed near them. In another week or two I will pot up the ones that I get into their own 4″ pots where they will spend the rest of this year. It takes about 305 days to get asparagus from this stage to the point where they have developed enough root crowns to go into the ground. That should see these guys planted out mid-March of 2011 ‘God willing and the creek don’t rise,’ as my Daddy would have said.

Asparagus Fronds

Purple Passion Fronds

There is one other hope in the asparagus department for next spring. In the fall of 2009 I put in four potted asparagus roots; two Mary Washington and two Purple Passion. They seem to have over-wintered well in spite of the onions, lettuce and carrots that surrounded them all year. Now they are sending up tall, broad fronds that should be nourishing the roots below and might give us our first taste of home grown asparagus next year. The potted roots were at least a year old when I bought them, so in the spring of 2011 they might be pushing three. If we’re lucky, and that creek don’t rise. ;-)