Asparagus is one of the most valued vegetables and it can be grown easily here in New England. First you will need a garden spot with full sunshine. Second, but also a must, is a soil that is well drained with no standing water in early spring. The first step to making your asparagus bed is to dig a trench 10 to 12 inches deep and about the width of a shovel. In the bottom put 2" of peat moss and cow manure, well mixed. Add 2" of good garden soil and blend it with the peat and manure, keeping the mix level in the trench. I prefer using two-year-old plants to avoid any transplanting problems. The spacing is 6-12" apart.

Asparagus plants are basically clumps of thick, fibrous roots with a small swollen crown that will grow on top. In the trench make small, pyramid-shaped mounds of soil and spread the roots on top with the roots going in all directions with the crown resting on the top of the mound. The thing to remember is that these plants will be in the ground for up to 20 years and the better you prepare them, the better production you will get in return. The soil you use to fill the trench should be rich with organic matter and that comes from peat moss, compost or manure. Mix a minimum of 1/3 organic matter into the soil.

Asparagus will do best in a soil that is near neutral, so in our area you will have to add limestone. I recommend 1 lb per foot of row or 25 lbs per 25 plants. Just blend the limestone well into the soil before adding to the trench. Now carefully fill the trench covering the crown of the plant by 1 1/2" and with your hand, pack the soil down firmly. This should leave a depression 2-3" deep and extra soil.

As the plants develop over the next 3 weeks, you can gradually add the remaining soil until the trench is level with the rest of the garden. Water well a couple of times a week until the plants begin to grow rapidly by themselves. For fertilizer the first season, use a 10-10- 10 applied evenly throughout the row as you would apply rock salt to an icy sidewalk. Fertilize at the time of planting and again 6 weeks later. During the first couple of weeks it will do the roots a great deal of good is you use a liquid soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20- a couple of times.

The first season you must not pick any of the asparagus spears because the plant must build up energy to get established. The second season just pick enough for one good feast. From the third year on you can pick for about 6- 10 weeks if you allow a few spears to mature during the harvesting period. From the second season on, you will help your crop to produce more heavily if you fertilize in early April with a 10-10-10 fertilizer and top dress with 25 lbs of cow manure. You may also apply nitrate of soda or organic nitrogen to help make the spears larger. Lime should be added to keep the soil sweet.

You may wonder why some spears come up nice and thick while others are small and thin. Asparagus has male and female plants and the male will have smaller spears but more of them. You can identify the sexes when they produce foliage because the female will grow small, ball-like fruit on the foliage. The fruit will be full of seeds and if you allow them to mature and dry on the plant the seeds will fall and start new plants which will keep the bed productive.

Weed control is a must and the soil should be cultivated several times during the season so new plants have a soft soil to germinate in. You may also cover the row with salt marsh hay to control weeds if weeding becomes a problem.

When harvesting your asparagus, cut into the ground 1-2" for full enjoyment of the spear. The spear should be 7-9" long when cut and there will be days when you will have to cut morning and evening. If spears come out of the soil with a crook it may be a result of your knife damaging young plants and you will have to begin harvesting above the ground. Try not to leave a stub above the ground because insects and disease may enter the plant. Insect pests are few for the asparagus, the asparagus beetle being the most serious. These can be controlled with Malathion and Trotenone. Do not apply within one day of harvest. The insect is about 1/4" in size and will feed on new spears and foliage. Dust plants weekly and your problems will be few. Cut worms may be a problem but usually in wet weather only. These are dull gray, about 1 1/4" long and feed on the base of the spear. If you choose the hybrid varieties of Mary Washington, asparagus disease will be no problem for your plants!

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