A Hitch In My Asparagus Plans

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One of my goals for this year was to put in a good-sized asparagus bed, in a well-thought-out location. In 2014 I had put in eight plants — three in isolated beds where they seem to be doing okay but not great, and five in a location that turned out to be terrible.

The gardening experts say to plant your asparagus in your best garden soil, in a location where they won’t shade other plants. After giving it some thought no area stood out as having particularly good soil, but I thought of a very convenient location on the north side of the garden where there was plenty of room. So last fall I broadforked it and covered it with several inches of compost, including some goat bedding donated by a friend.

Last week I set about preparing a trench for the eight new crowns I had recently bought. The instructions on the bag said to dig a trench 12 inches deep. Horrors— that’s a lot of digging, I thought. Still, I got busy and after at least five hours of digging — spread out over three sessions — I had a good long trench that was mostly 9 to 11 inches deep. I must say, though, I had my doubts about making it that deep, since the last few inches involved breaking up hard clay and big rocks with a mattock. Asparagus is supposed to require well-drained soil, so I wondered how that was going to work.

I decided to throw back in a lot of the small stones I had pulled out, thinking maybe that would solve the problem. Later I consulted Rodale’s Encylopedia of Organic Gardening and found that it recommends a trench of 6 to 8 inches — 8 if your soil is sandy, which couldn’t be farther from the case. I wished I had consulted that earlier! After reading that I also threw back in a few inches of the soil I had taken out.

Worse yet, the Rodale encyclopedia said to plant the crowns immediately if possible, and if not, to pack them in moistened sphagnum moss. I had held onto mine for about a week before it occurred to me that maybe it was time to plant them. Still, they were packaged in plastic, in a peaty-looking medium, so I hoped they’d be okay. I proceeded to soak them for 20 minutes in the closest thing I had to compost tea, as recommended by Rodale.

Maybe I should have swished them around in the water and separated them very carefully, but I didn’t think they were that fragile. However, as I set out the crowns I ended up with only six, rather than the eight the package was supposed to contain, and one or two of them hardly amounted to anything. I had bought them from a reputable nursery, so this puzzled me, but I did find a lot of broken root pieces in the bucket when I finished.

The worst was yet to come. That night brought a welcome heavy rainfall, since the weather has lately been dry. But here’s the scene that awaited me in the morning:

It took at least three days for all that water to go away, but when it finally did I got busy and dug up the crowns, replanting them a few inches higher and refilling the trench almost to the top. I couldn’t find the sixth crown, but decided to try digging up two of the weaker crowns from my even wetter 2014 location and replanting them in the new bed. I was surprised how large and vigorous they were, having grown in a location that had standing water for weeks at a time in 2015! They showed no signs of rot, although the plants never grew very well.

So now I have seven plants in my new bed, and I’m already thinking about a better location for an asparagus bed in 2017. I think I have a good one in mind — at the south end of the garden, but far enough that it won’t unduly shade the nearest bed, where I had planned to put in strawberries. The best sun comes in the morning hours anyway, and by the time the strawberries need full sun it will be high enough to get over the asparagus. And I do believe that might be my best garden soil after all!