Asparagus is an expensive spring delicacy at the market, and the quality of conventionally grown asparagus varies widely. Growing asparagus in the home organic garden is easy, but best of all, asparagus is one of the few perennial plants in the vegetable garden.
Gardeners who invest in two dozen crowns this year can pick enough tender shoots in years to come for salads, soups, and sautés. In fact, a well tended asparagus patch can last for more than two decades.
Starting New Asparagus Plants
Although it is possible to grow asparagus from seed, this requires a level of patience that can test even the most persistent gardener. It’s best to start with healthy crowns, as the plants will still require two growing seasons before the first harvest.
Organic gardeners must ensure the proper pH for soil in the asparagus patch. The plants appreciate soil with a pH between 6.5 and 6.8. If the soil is too alkaline, add coffee grounds to the planting trench. If the soil is too acidic, add ashes from the fireplace.
Once the pH is adjusted to suit the asparagus, amend the soil with compost and rotted manure. The best time to do this is in the fall, as gardeners can plant asparagus crowns in early spring when soil may be too wet to be worked.
Plant asparagus in a spot where they won’t shade neighboring vegetables, as the ferny top growth is much taller than the edible spears seen in stores. Plant the crowns in an eight inch trench, and gradually cover them with soil as sprouts form.
Growing Healthy Asparagus
New asparagus plants appreciate moist growing conditions in their first two seasons, when the plants are focusing their energy on producing healthy root systems. Gardeners can reduce moisture loss by keeping the plants mulched continuously with a three inch layer of compost and rotted manure. This also provides necessary nutrients to the plants. An application of seaweed meal in midsummer replenishes the fronds during the peak of the growing season.
Asparagus Pests and Diseases
Fusarium and rust are two significant diseases that attack asparagus plants. Because asparagus are perennial plants that grow in the same spot for years, organic gardeners don’t have the luxury of combating disease through crop rotation. Therefore, it’s important to buy plants with a natural resistance to these diseases. ‘Jersey King,’ ‘Jersey Giant,’ and ‘Jersey Knight’ are all resistant to asparagus diseases.
The asparagus beetle is the primary insect pest gardeners must battle. Don’t confuse the spotted asparagus beetle with the similar-looking ladybug. The asparagus beetle has a longer thorax. The common asparagus beetle has a black and white checkered pattern on its thorax. Remove old asparagus ferns at the end of the growing season, and destroy asparagus berries to deny the pests their habitat. Beneficial nematodes like Heterorhabditis bacteriophora destroy asparagus beetle grubs.