Asparagus (asparagus officinalis) is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial and part of the Lily family, similar to its Allium cousins, onions and garlic. Native to most of Europe, it benefits any garden by being one of the earliest vegetables to crop in the Spring!
When planning to grow asparagus, it pays to prepare the bed and the location well, as a poorly prepared asparagus bed will produce a scant harvest! When determining the ideal growing conditions, one only needs to observe nature. Asparagus grows wild and favours slightly salty (coastal) regions - which can difficult when trying to identify suitable companions - although both parsley and rosemary are thought to be good companions - not many plants like this kind of salty soil structure. As well as difficult suitors, these penickity vegetables also cultivate patience, as the vegetable has a three year pre-amble before the grower is able to harvest fully!
All this said, there's nothing quite like walking out to the garden and cutting fresh asparagus for breakfast!
I finally decided to get my asparagus started last year. Although my own back yard is not anything close to asparagus friendly, I started with both seeds and seedlings, sowing into large pots and containers, which I planned to transplant this season. Hence, sneaking a year forward in that 'three year' growing requirement for new asparagus patches.
The first year saw fairly strong, and rather cute asparagus spears grow and lots of feathery ferns. They were very tempting to harvest, but to promote healthy crowns, it is advisable to not harvest until the third year. So, they were allowed to dieback over the winter. And have appeared again this year, some fairing better than others, but all now in their second year and ready to transplant into a new garden.
Although asparagus is commonly believed to be difficult to plant and cultivate in a regular suburban kitchen garden, I thought that I would get the ball rolling and start planting this year. The spears (in the first picture above) are first year seedlings - it takes three years before full harvesting can take place. I've been wanting to grow my own ever since tasting the wild asparagus I discovered with a friend while wandering the hills of the Okanagan in British Columbia. Those skinny spears melted in our mouths when we ate them later at her place overlooking Okanagan Lake that evening.
If planning to grow asparagus, start by getting familiar with do's and dont's on the internet: Vegetable Gardening Online
Once ready to start your own, an excellent book that provides everything you need for growing is Grow the Best Asparagus (Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin)
So, even though my current garden is a tiny asparagus unfriendly location, I'm glad I decided to start last year, as now I'm in my second year and will be harvesting like crazy next year!
The plants have taken well in their various containers and planting spaces, I've now moved house and have a bigger garden so I'm carefully transplanting to larger raised beds and into terraced growing spaces at the top of the garden. I've resisted the urge to 'harvest' this year, although some of those tender little shoots have beed especially difficult to ignore! Of the twenty or so plants I put in (a mix of seeds and seedlings) I have had approx 80 percent success rate this year - only a couple have not thrown out little asparagus spears. But, I have rescued the root crowns and planted out, so will wait to see if they make an appearance in year three!
Further reading + resources