Asparagus can be grown by seed, but most farmers and gardeners leave this part to a qualified nursery because the seeds are often too finicky to germinate.
Instead, it is advised to buy ‘crowns’ asparagus, a common term for the dormant roots.
If one already has an asparagus bed of the desired kind, producing fine spears, and of the proper age (8 to 12 years old) for seed production, it is always best to save seed for new plantings. The growth of one’s own plants is preferable, both because of the extra year between planting and the actual setting of the bed, thus allowing the soil of the proposed bed to be put in a better and more friable condition, and because good seed has been secured and proper care given to young plants, a more satisfactory supply of young roots is obtained.
The fact that there are objections to growing one’s own seed is undoubtedly true, but there are also rewarding advantages, and if proper care is taken, it will pay the grower to grow his own seed (from beds that are satisfactory) even if the seed can be bought on the open market for much less than the cost of attending to the home grown.
Asparagus could really grow on most soils, producing large crops on firm soils; but for the benefit of the grower for the market, a light sandy soil of good fertility is more to be desired, both because of the earlyness with which it grows marketable spears and the ease with which it is cultivated. A soil on which water remains after rain, or in which flowing subsurface water is below the surface under which the roots are likely to penetrate, must be avoided.
Of course, such a surface, whether it is otherwise appropriate, must be equipped with a detailed network of underwater drainage, because an occasional flood, or even a submergence of beds for many days, is not inherently injurious if the drainage, either natural or artificial, is nice. The soil will be free from roots, stones or other debris that would not quickly disintegrate or mess with the growth of the spears. A very firm but naturally well-drained soil that grows early and fine asparagus, given the fact that it is full of big rocks, some of the stones are twice the size of a man’s hand.
Trees or tall shrubs should not be encouraged in the bed of the asparagus, because of the shadows they cast on the beds, and because their roots are heavy on the soil. Nor can the tall trees, hedges, hills, or houses be so close as to throw a shadow over the fields, since all the sunlight that is attainable is required to easily get the spears to the surface. Land can be shielded from the north or east (or from the path of prevailing winds) so that the full benefit of sunlight can be obtained during the day. Freedom from weeds is very beneficial, even more so than high fertility, as it can be provided by heavy manure, which will be needed for future cultivation; and to the end that weeds can be low, it is well that some hoed crop, such as potatoes, beets, cabbages, etc., should have been cultivated for a year or two prior to planting the field.
In late autumn or early winter, the chosen field should have a light sandy loam, as mentioned above, which must be deeply plowed, and if the subsoil is not already clear and porous in nature, from which the surface water is easily drained and the roots easily penetrated, the subsoil plow should follow, splitting the soil to a depth of at least 15 inches. After harvesting the field, a healthy compost of well-milled horse, cow, sheep, or other manure will be spread and exposed to the activity of the weather until as early as the spring when the dirt is in a condition to be worked, until the manure is to be plowed in, the surface is cautiously harrowed, and the soil is to be soft and brittle.
As early in the spring as the condition of the ground will permit work to be done—when it is dry enough to bear plowing and the soil will break up fine—rows should be marked off 4 to 6 feet apart and opened up with a large plow, going a sufficient number of times to make a furrow from 8 to 12 inches deep. Loose soil that the plow does not throw up should be taken up with a shovel or wide-bladed hoe. It is in these furrows that the crowns are to be set, the distance to be left between plants varying, according to the opinion of the grower, from 18 inches to 5 feet.
Rows can be aligned north and south, so that the complete advantage of the sun can be protected. When the rows stretch east and west, the ridges will be shaded in early spring, when the sun is low in the south, and later in the season they will be entirely shaded to one side by the tall trees. This gap sprouts in the spring, which avoids the optimum plant growth at all times.
Of course, any circumstances, such as the slope of the ground, etc., which make it unwise to run the rows north and south, must be considered, but southeast to northwest or northeast to southwest is better than east or west, or, in short, natural conditions permitting, the course should be as far from east and west as possible.
It is especially important for those who ridge the rows to grow white asparagus. Early in the spring of each year, before the plants are mature enough to be harvested, there must be a ridge built over the rows to whiten the shoots, if white asparagus is to be sliced; and if the ridge is not adequate, even after the spears begin to emerge, the ridges will have to be replaced every week or ten days during the cutting season, as the rains beat them down and the sun bakes a crust on the surface.
The grower of green asparagus has almost the same work, less ridging and plowing down. Since it is important to keep all weeds down, some hoeing may be required as an alternative to the free usage of the 1-horse cultivator. During the cutting season, the cutaway harrow, which runs twice diagonally through the fields, loosens the soil and kills a vast amount of weeds without destroying the crowns, while several spears can be broken off.
Nothing related to asparagus has improved more than the use of manure. Formerly, it was considered necessary to position vast amounts of manure in the bottom of the deep trenches in which the young plants were planted so that ample fertility could be available for the roots for many years, as after the plants had been planted there would be no other incentive to use manure in such an advantageous location; it was also considered necessary to use more of the manure; Such conditions, in particular the fact that, prior to the planting of young crowns, the outlay was so large that, for so many years before any return should have been obtained from the garden, only minor plantings were necessary for those who were without significant resources.
While asparagus is still highly manured, the amount currently used is much less than was historically thought to be needed, just about twice the amount usually used for root crops, such as potatoes, beets, etc. It is not a good idea to put manure in the bottom of the trenches or furrows while setting the crowns, as it is seen to be more a loss of manure than otherwise, and besides the roots of the asparagus, it is easier to grow while resting on a more dense surface; nor is it appropriate for the surface to produce huge volumes of humus or to be in highly fertile condition while planting. Considerable improvement is attributed to the use of stable manure on the beds in the technical state of the soil. The application of humus makes soft sandy soil a bit more stable and increases its ability to absorb and hold moisture; while, on the other hand, dry, hard soils are colder and more rigid.
The timing of application of manure to beds and the location where it should be put are of some significance. With the use of stable manure, both authors on the subject and farmers currently involved with growing asparagus for the market almost universally claim that ‘in the fall, after the stalks have matured and trimmed, manure should be spread on top of the rows.’ Others warn not to position it just above the crowns, should the next spring shoots be wounded by contact with it. This strategy of top dressing beds during the fall or early winter is slowly giving way to a more logical manner of top dressing in the spring and summer. It was assumed that autumn dressing improved the roots and allowed them to shoot stronger shoots in the following season. It’s a misunderstanding.
It is during the development of the stems after the cutting season is over that the crowns form buds from which the spears of the next spring season are produced, and it is possible that it is mostly during this time that the roots assimilate and store the material that creates the spears. That being the case, the plant food applied to the soil and made available after the cessation of the crops in the autumn may have little, if any, impact on the spears which are harvested for the market in the subsequent spring; it is first used for the plant after the crop has been harvested and the stalks are allowed to expand. In the use of hot or fresh manure, it may be that the winter season is not too long to allow the fertilizing elements to be usable and well dispersed in the soil, but if well-milled manure is used, there is a possibility that fertility may be leached out of the soil by rain and melted winter snow.
Some farmers who add a generous dressing of healthy manure or fertiliser directly after the cutting season provide the needed food to the plants at the moment they need it most and can make the most productive use of it in the production of spears. The manure thus added would also serve as a mulch, avoiding the growth of weeds, keeping the soil clean and cool and holding the moisture intact. It’s not meant to be made on top of the board. The writer wants to stress this idea.
Manuring in November in many cases does more damage than good, as the mass of manure allows many roots to rot, and those that remain are weak and yield only small spears. It would be much easier to focus on the liberal supply of food during the growing season than to give manure when the bushes are trimmed, as the roots can more efficiently absorb the food they offer. The crowns are created by feeding in spring and summer for the next season’s supply of grass. The roots of the asparagus can still be involved, but much less so in winter than in any other season, so they must get as much nitrogen from the soil as they will then use. If heavily covered with manure sunlight is omitted, growth will be tested, and the roots will have to fight hard for life at a time when they are not too solid.
The best use of manure in the community of green spears is transmitting, which is accompanied by a detailed harrowing of the region. When white asparagus has been removed, then manure in the trench between the ridges before damaging them or harrowing down the ridges and then manure transfer is maybe the most reasonable approach. As between the manure in the row and between the branches, the latter should be selected as the most clearly suitable manure from which the feeding roots of the plants are more conveniently reached. Placing the manure in the row only hits some feeding roots which are to be found about halfway between the crowns, because only around the crowns there are nothing but storage roots, besides it is not ideal to position the manure too close to the crowns, but the manure between the rows places the manure right where the summer rains will carry the fertilizer down straight into the (as it were) open mouths of the religion.
If the green asparagus is preferred, the stalks need to be cut just so far below the surface as to have a 9 or 10 inch spear, much of which, say 6 inches or more, would be green and, of course, above the ground. If white asparagus is desired, the rows shall be ridged from 10 to 15 inches above the crowns, and the spears shall be removed as soon as they appear on the surface and until they peep over it. It is to cut 9 to 10 inches below the bone. To do this, long chisel-like knives of varying shapes are used.
Cutting should be performed at least every day, and when vegetation is rapid twice a day, white asparagus is required, so it is always desirable when the green is cut.
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables, particularly if the roots are near the surface or the soil above them has been temporarily removed so that the sun’s rays can easily penetrate them. Many varieties come faster than others, and this difference in time of arrival ranges from one day or two to several weeks.
For example, the Early Argenteuil is about ten days earlier than the ordinary asparagus grown in the same locality, and the Late Argenteuil at least ten days later, so that there will be almost three weeks between the Early and Late Argenteuil. Between the can types, however, there is only a short time between the earliest and the latest.
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