Asparagus a garden investment

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By Jeneen Wiche

I am only now recovering. It has been four days since Andy and I planted out 100 asparagus crowns.  
Planting asparagus is an investment on all accounts, time, labor, money, patience and then the big payoff, which is fresh asparagus for two months each spring right from your own garden.
This is the second time I have a participated in an asparagus planting extravaganza (I told Andy when we were finished two times in a life time is enough for me).  
I planted asparagus with my father nearly 30 years ago and we are still enjoying the bounty from that original planting so, you see, the investment is worth it all around.  
Perhaps you are not interested in the volume of work and yield that 100 crowns offers so maybe 25 planted in a permanent spot in the garden will suffice.  
Asparagus is a perennial so be certain about where you plant and be serious about preparing the planting bed.
This is the hardest part but once it is done, it is done!  Asparagus will continue to produce for 30 years or more if it is properly maintained, our original planting is proof of that.
Prepare a 10-inch deep trench that is about two feet wide; add lots of organic matter like composted manure if your soil is clayey.  
We use a stagger pattern to plant the crowns, imagine the paw prints of a cat and plant accordingly, spacing the center of the crowns about 12 inches apart.  
To get asparagus started, it is not a bad idea to add a little phosphorus into the mix. I sprinkle a little bone meal into the trench before spreading out the roots of each crown and planting. Cover the crowns with about two inches of soil, reserving the remaining soil for later.  
The unique thing about planting asparagus is that we add soil gradually over several weeks. Cover the crowns little by little as they emerge from dormancy and poke above the soil surface; that’s our prompt to add some more soil until we are back even with the soil surface. Keep the plants evenly moist during this time.
When you purchase your asparagus crowns it will be noted how old they are (you can tell, too, by how robust they are) if you purchased 2-3 year old crowns you can start harvesting a little by next year, but it really is best to leave them be during the first year so they can go straight to fern.  
At the fern stage the plant can maximize photosynthesis and pack in the energy to develop a strong root system and therefore higher yields next year.  
Harvest a little next year and then you should be ready to really enjoy by the third year after planting
Long-term maintenance includes weeding (which, as a perennial crop, does become a problem after years in the same place, try using corn gluten as a preemergent); also don’t cut asparagus tops (the ferny growth) back until it has naturally died back; the plants need to store energy throughout the summer and fall through their foliage for a good crop the following spring.  
In fact, we have been burning our dried fern debris in late winter; this also accomplishes some pest control by burning any eggs of the asparagus beetle that might remain form the previous season.  
Only burn if you are safe to do so in proximity to others and to buildings, though!
You can fertilize during active fern growth after the harvest season with composted manure or a balanced granular (I like the mixes that are organic like Espoma’s product line; or make your own mixing cottonseed meal, bone meal and kelp.)