Asparagus – The First Year

So from time to time I can get a little gung ho when I have a new idea. This is usually when TB runs and hides, hoping he won’t have to help and I won’t make a huge mess.

Last fall as the garden was winding down I was already thinking about the next year and what we would grow. The first year or two I wanted to stay basic and started growing easy things like tomatoes and cucumbers. Since this went well I thought we should try for things we actually eat. Although we both love the herbs I’m not a big fan of tomatoes and TB doesn’t like cukes. Some of our favorite vegetables are asparagus and artichokes. And that’s where the researching began.

Artichokes are beautiful and remind me of thistles, which is a big thing is Scottish culture. I was so excited with the idea to plant a bunch of them in an area that is now our front yard. The plants are of course huge and spiky. And there is currently grass in that location that would have to be ripped up and made into a garden bed. I got a big thumbs down from TB on that one.

Next was asparagus. These are typically grown from crowns that look like an octopus instead of seed. This is a long term crop in that you plant one year but can’t harvest until the second or third year. The good news is that once established the plants will produce asparagus for 15-20 years. What that means is I had to pick a planting spot and stick with it for a long time. So much pressure!

So last fall I moved a few perennials from around where I tried the potatoes (disaster!) and made that whole bed the spot for asparagus. I vaguely remember making a deal with TB that I would take care of the whole thing for some reason which was a bad idea. The lumber that I used for the raised beds was heavy and it almost didn’t happen. But admitting I am wrong is worse than my arms falling off so it got finished.  The crowns were planted and we mulched the whole thing with shredded leaves and waited until spring.

Once spring came I couldn’t wait to see those little spears!  In NJ asparagus season is late April to late June.   The spears grow by pushing up through the soil looking like, well, asparagus!  It seriously looks like you bought a bunch of spears from the market and just stuck them in the dirt.  This picture was taken April 5th and I was so excited.

Asparagus apr 5 13

And I waited and waited and I did get a few more by the end of April.    Since I had planted 7 crowns I had hoped to get at least a few spears per plant.  I had purchased 2 year old crowns in 2012 so in theory, in 2013 they would be 3 years old and I could pick a few.  If you leave the spears on the plant they grow up into these beautiful ferns, which use photosynthesis to feed the roots and make a stronger plant for next year.   So you pick some to eat and leave some for the plant.  But I had like 5 spears so there was none to pick.   By mid June I  was sure that I must have messed up somewhere along the way.

And then it finally happened.  The “season” was officially over but the plants didn’t care.  All the sudden spears started shooting up from the ground like this.

Asparagus jul 16 13


So having left all the spears that had grown so far, by mid July we had a bunch of the lovely ferns.  They were pretty tall, maybe 4 feet high if held up straight, and had this light ethereal quality.

Asparagus jul 16 13 ferns


So at this point I was pretty happy.  I didn’t really have enough to harvest any but was pretty confident I hadn’t killed them.  All 7 crowns had produced spears and next year would be a great harvest.  End of story, right?

Except that my asparagus don’t realize that August isn’t “asparagus season”.  They are supposed to be cool weather plants like lettuce and beets.  They apparently think that 80 degree weather is just fine for growing.  Maybe they feel like this is cooler after July being 100 degrees everyday.  I just went outside to take these photos and try to get a spear count.

Asparagus aug 16 13


We are somewhere in the 40s on spears.  It’s hard to count now because the ferns have become so dense!  The post all the way at the left is 3 1/2 feet tall to give you some perspective.  That means that if you stand the ferns up straight we are talking some that are 7 feet tall.

And there are still more popping up!  (TB just asked if we could finally pick some)

Asparagus aug 16 13 b


So moral of this gardening story:  don’t give up.  Sometime you think you may have killed something but instead it is just taking it’s sweet time getting itself together. Maybe these asparagus plants are just rebels that don’t like being told when to grow, which I can totally respect!

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