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Growing asparagus

Asparagus has long been considered the ultimate gourmet vegetable, thanks to its delicious taste and delicate texture. Asparagus officinalis is a flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus from which the popular vegetable known as asparagus is obtained.
Asparagus is a long-lived perennial vegetable crop that is enjoyed by many gardeners. It can be productive for 15 or more years if given proper care. Asparagus is an almost leafless member of the lily family. The spears we buy in the store are actually the shoots from an underground crown. It takes up to 3 years for crowns to develop enough to begin producing shoots, but once they do, they can produce for up to 20 years. Grown for the stems or spears, a well tended planting yields 8 to 10 pounds or more per 100 square feet of bed or 24 to 30 pounds per 100 feet of row. It does not do well if summers are extremely hot and long and winters are mild.
The fleshy green spears of asparagus are both succulent and tender and have been considered a delicacy since ancient times. This highly prized vegetable arrives with the coming of spring. In California the first crops are picked as early as February, however, their season generally is considered to run from April through May. The growing season in the Midwest and East extends through July.
Asparagus grows in most any soil as long as it has good internal drainage. Asparagus roots do not like waterlogged soils that will lead to root rot. It prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.5., and will not do well if the pH is less than 6.0. Have the soil tested to determine phosphorus and potassium needs; or add 20 lbs of a 10-20-10 or similar analysis fertilizer per 1,000 square feet, tilled to a 6 inch depth before planting.
Asparagus is grown from 1-year-old plants or “crowns” planted in January or February. Crowns grow from seed planted in flats or peat cups in October for January transplanting, or they are transplanted from an existing asparagus bed. To get healthy, vigorous plants, buy 1-year-old crowns from a nursery or garden center or order them from a seed catalog. It takes 1 year to grow a good crown. Since an asparagus planting lasts many years, good seedbed preparation is essential. The soil should be free of trash, soil insects and weeds such as johnsongrass and bermudagrass before planting. It is important to eliminate all perennial weed problems at least one year before planting. This can be done effectively by treating the actively growing weeds with a non-selective herbicide. Another way to reduce weed populations and help build soil organic matter is to prepare the field at least one year in advance. This can be done by planting a cover crop such as clover, or an early-maturing soybean variety.
Avoid harvesting spears for two years after planting and allow ferny stems to develop. Cut these to 5cm above the ground in autumn. To harvest, cut spears when they are 12cm long, removing them with a serrated knife, 7cms beneath the soil. Keep weeds pulled or hoed from the beds. Asparagus beds require little care after the first 2 years. Control weeds without damaging the spears. In early season, till the soil when fertilizer is applied before the spears begin growth. Control weeds during the season by raking lightly or mulching. After the last harvest, cut back all top growth. Apply fertilizer and till lightly 1 to 2 inches to kill weeds.

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