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Fruit and Vegetable Gardening A-Z: Asparagus

A Guide to Gardening, Growing, and Harvesting Edibles
  -- By Jenny Sigler, SparkPeople Contributor
Asparagus is delicious to eat and easy to grow, but it requires some patience. Grow asparagus only if you are able to dedicate a continual spot for it because it's a perennial vegetable. Note: Only plant male asparagus.

Hardiness Zones:
4-9 (Find your hardiness zone.)

When to Plant:
Purchase year-old crowns from a nursery or online retailer. Sow asparagus in the early spring when the soil temperature reaches about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While more expensive, you can often select two- or three-year-old crowns, which will cut down your wait time.

Conditions:
Prepare a plot in a well-drained, open, and sunny area. To plant, dig a trench about 6-8 inches deep and about 4-5 inches wide. Spread out the “arms” of the roots and then back-fill the hole with 2 inches of soil and compost. As the plants grow, add more dirt and compost until the hole is filled. Be sure to leave the beautiful ferny foliage on the plant all summer and fall when it goes dormant. During the first year, cut no shoots but continue to water regularly. At the end of winter cut and remove the stalks. The second year, enrich the soil with compost and only harvest stalks as big as your finger. The third year, enjoy your bounty in its fullness!

Space Needed:
Space plants 12-18 inches apart.

Maintenance:
Water regularly and amend the soil with plenty of organic matter that is rich in potassium and phosphorus. Side-dress plants with an organic fertilizer, such as compost tea, in late summer, and top the bed in organic mulch in the fall.

When to Harvest:
Asparagus takes three years to establish before you can harvest it. After it is established, harvest early in the season when the ground temperature is near 50 degrees. You could harvest 7- to 9-inch-long spears every 2 to 4 days! As air temperatures increases, you'll be able to harvest 5- to 7-inch spears once or twice per day before the tips start to fern out and lose quality.

Average Yield:
For a family of four average asparagus lovers, plant 20-30 crowns. Asparagus grows very fast, and in peak season, you will need to harvest it multiple times per day.

Continuous Yield:
Yes

Life Cycle:
Perennial, up to 20 years

Difficulty Rating (1-5):
4