AsparagusThis picture isn't mine, but the ones below
are. I will try to post an updated pic when
ours come up!
Typically we would blog about this on our gardening blog, but as this activity actually encompasses a number of different holistic living topics (gardening, healthy eating, sustainable living, and of course, exercise!), I decided to write about my asparagus planting adventure here for you today.

For those of you who have never planted asparagus before, don't let this deter you - just be prepared for the amount of work it will take! And for those of you who have - well, you know what I'm talking about when I say that after this weekend I now know for sure that I'm a real gardener!  :-)

There is nothing like fresh asparagus from the garden. Literally - nothing. It wasn't long after buying our new house that I started thinking about planting some asparagus. I read quite a few stories about how challenging a vegetable it is to plant, but I thought, hey, how hard could it be? If they do well, they'll live for 15-20 years anyway, so even if it's a lot of work, it's still worth it.

With innocent stars in my eyes, and visions of fresh asparagus spears dancing in my head, I ordered 10 crowns from a nursery my mom recommended. I read up ahead of time about what kind of soil they like, how deep to plant them, what amendments to add, etc.

We had planned to rent a tiller in April and till up our garden space, plus a bed for the asparagus. Alas, with the copious spring rains, and the complete lack of drainage on our flat-as-a-pancake property, the ground remained squishy mud for the entire month of April. I pined for gardening time, staring out the window at the rain, and hoping our asparagus would not arrive too soon and find a quagmire as its inhospitable new home.

Finally, last Monday, after 5 amazing warm and sunny days without rain, my husband took a day off work and rented a tiller (or, "The Beast" as he not-so-fondly refers to it now). I arrived home from work to find a bumpy, lumpy, clod-filled field of earth and grass sprouts and roots where our new garden will be. But the asparagus bed remained a patch of undisturbed grass and dandelions, green as ever in the drizzly evening (yes, it was raining again - he finished tilling just in time). When he returned from dropping off the tiller, I said, "Hey, hubby - what gives? Where's my asparagus bed??" 

Apparently, the tiller was too large and cumbersome to operate in the small area we had planned for it (plus, I think he was tired after tilling the 1,200 square feet of grass and clay in the main garden). No biggie - I thought. I'll just dig the bed by hand - it's only 4' x 8' anyway, and I've dug plenty of beds from scratch before!
PicturePutting a brave face on it (Hour 1).
Our asparagus arrived on Thursday (nearly 4 weeks after I ordered, so I'm glad I didn't order it later - or earlier!), so on Friday after work I cheerfully set out from the garage to the future asparagus patch in my garden jeans, with my digging fork in hand.

I won't bore you with the details of digging a patch of well-established grass and dandelions out of a 4x8' area of solid clay which has never been gardened before (as far as I can tell), but suffice it to say that it took over 2 hours, I finished well after dark, and am still having trouble walking 3 days later from standing up, forking, squatting down and beating lumps of clay-filled grass roots together, standing up, forking...you get the picture. Brazilian Butt Lift can kiss my you-know-what! :-)

If you look closely at the picture to the left, you may notice the giant grass clump almost as big as my head clutched in my left hand.

Bright and early the next morning, I marched (okay, limped) out to what was now a nicely bare patch of dirt to commence the planting process. The instructions below are adapted from Modern Farmer, but I made a few modifications, which I will describe as well.

Step 1: Remove all vegetation and roots from the planting area (this was accomplished in the first 2 hours the previous evening)
Step 2: Loosen the soil to a depth of 8 inches over the entire planting area using a digging fork.
Step 3: Spread 2" of compost over the planting area and mix it into the soil.

Sounds easy enough, considering that I already forked all the grass out, right? Not so fast - remember this is hard-packed clay.... I normally would have combined steps 2 and 3, but figured this area could use some extra forking, so I did it twice - once before the compost, and once after. My husband had just picked up a load of compost the day before, so I filled a wheelbarrow and brought it over. I also added just a bit of peat moss, since the ground is so hard, even though it doesn't need any extra acidity - luckily our soil is a perfect 7.0, which is what asparagus likes.

After this was done, I was actually surprised and impressed by how nice the soil now looked! I would barely recognize it to contain the same clayey clods I was forking up the night before.

Asparagus bed
First digging done.
Asparagus bed
Second digging, with amendments.
Looks nice, huh? (Hour 3.)
I then performed an experiment which was not in the instructions. Upon looking at the bed, which was still so flat and low (after all, I had removed probably 3" of topsoil with all those grass roots), I decided to put some of that back in. Obviously I didn't want to plant the asparagus on top of a bunch of solid clay and grass, so I decided to dig a trench down the center of the bed, lay a thick layer of grass clods (root side up) into the trench, and bury them with several inches of dirt, then plant the asparagus on either side. This had the effect of adding some bulk to the bed, and putting back some of the organic matter contained in the grass and roots. Hopefully it will be okay!
Planting asparagusTrench #1.
Step 4: Dig a trench 12" wide by 12" deep.

Yeah, this didn't happen. This instruction didn't make that much sense to me anyway. It only said to loosen the soil 8" down, but you are supposed to dig 4" below that? Not possible in solid clay! From what I've heard elsewhere, it's okay to plant asparagus a bit more shallowly than that anyway. My trench was about 8" deep, but we have a frame around the bed, so we can add more soil on top later if needed.

The instructions said to fill a wheelbarrow about 2/3 full of excavated soil mixed with compost for each 8 foot row, so I scooped about every other shovel full into the wheelbarrow, and then added some dark black compost from my own composting efforts last year, which I had saved in a bag just for the asparagus bed. Gotta make it your own, you know? :-)

Step 5: Add 3 cups of all-purpose organic vegetable fertilizer, and 1-2 cups of greensand to the wheelbarrow, and mix thoroughly. I used Garden-Tone and Greensand both from Espoma Organics.

Wheelbarrow with compost
Excavated soil with amendments.
Wheelbarrow with soil.
Yum! Asparagus food!
Step 6: Spread the wheelbarrow's contents evenly along the trench. (This is where I ran into trouble, which I'll describe in a minute, but at least for me, this did not work out well.)

Step 7: Make a conical mound about 6" high every 18" along the trench. (Sounds weird, but you'll see why in a  minute, especially when you say hello to your first asparagus crown!)

Asparagus crownsWhen asparagus attacks!
Step 8: Place one crown on top of each mound, and spread the roots evenly in all directions. If you've never seen an asparagus crown, they are somewhat like an octopus with a hundred tiny tentacles. Yes, as you can see, I had some fun with this. :-)

Step 9: (Here comes trouble.) Fill in the trench until each crown is covered with about 2" of soil.

Uh oh.... By my 3rd crown, I realized something was wrong.... The soil not only wasn't 2" over the top of the crown, but the crown was actually level with the surface of the ground, and there was no more dirt to fill in! As you are supposed to add even MORE soil later after the asparagus sprouts up out of the ground, this was obviously not going to work. Guess I should have dug the trench 12" deep after all....

Planting asparagusCrowns (aka weird sea creatures)
in the (too shallow) trench.
I reversed course and dug up the crown I had just planted, then tried to scoop some soil out of the trench, re-arrange the mounds again, and get the crowns down a little deeper. It sort of worked. I think. But there was still no extra soil left. We will have to get some and add some more on top later when they start coming up.

For the second trench, I had learned my lesson, so this one went a lot better. I still followed the instructions in Steps 4 and 5, but when it came to adding the compost mixture to the trench, I just put two shovels full where I wanted each mound. Then I mounded them up, removing a few handfuls of the soil if it seemed too high, and put the crowns in. I used the rest of what was in the wheelbarrow to fill in around and over the crowns.

I only had to add a bit of the leftover dirt that was scooped out of the trench to cover them all by about 2", so I ended up with a nice ridge of soil down the center of the bed to cover them with again when they start coming up. We'll still probably have to add some more because of the other row, but that's fine - I wanted the bed to be raised up a bit anyway, so this will accomplish that!

Asparagus bedDONE!! (Hour 5)
After a good watering, the bed looked awesome! One thing I missed because it was not in these instructions, but in the booklet that actually came with the asparagus crowns, was that you are supposed to soak them in water for 24 hours before planting. Oops!  Oh well, we are supposed to get rain this week, and our soil holds a lot of water, so hopefully they'll be fine anyway. I will be keeping an eye on the bed with baited breath! And I'll let you know in a couple of years how good the asparagus is. :-)

All in all, it was by far the most difficult garden task I've ever done. It took a total of about 5 hours of intense physical labor, which left my entire body aching (literally, from the bottoms of my feet (from digging the fork into the clay), to the tips of my fingers (from wrenching clods of grass from the ground and breaking up lumps of clay)). But I'm sure the asparagus will taste all that much sweeter for it!

So the next time you eat asparagus, remember all the work that went into it. And if you're up for planting your own, more power to you - I'm sure it will be worth it when you pick your own fresh asparagus straight from the garden. I sure hope so anyway!  :-)


Happy gardening!
Rose.


 


Comments

06/06/2015 11:52pm

In developing countries the mentality of the most of the people and more specifically it is the mentality of those people who belongs to some medium or lower class hat. if they got education in their life then their entire problem got solved.

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