I grew asparagus from seed and planted it out in my raised beds here at home last year with the plan to dig the crowns and transplant plant them in a prepared bed out at the farm. Unfortunately I planted the seedlings out too soon last spring and it seems I lost most of them to a late frost.
I do have a wee bit of hope there will be more survivors after reading something Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture, wrote about his early asparagus experiences. I can’t remember where I read it (maybe in his book?) or the exact details, but apparently he planted a bunch of asparagus – it didn’t come up and he wrote it off as a loss, but the following year – boom! – the asparagus came up in full flush. I propagated 200 seeds – planted out at least 160 or more seedlings, but saw only about 20 -30 plants survive the frost. Keep your fingers crossed…
The plan is to plant them out in one of the contour beds in zone two we initially prepared a couple of years ago and grew potatoes in. We have since been building that clay soil up with compost, straw mulch and spoiled haylage, so I hope the asparagus will be happy in their new home. Having said that – with the mild winter and unseasonably warm temps in the last two weeks I may have missed my window of opportunity to dig them up while still dormant. Little spears are popping up everywhere. I can’t find anywhere in my research whether or not it would be a bad idea to dig them now or if I should wait until they go dormant this fall. Anyone out there have any advice for me? I wasn’t planning on harvesting anything for another year or so anyway.
The plan is to plant the asparagus amongst fruit trees and other plants in beds we prepared a few years ago and grew potatoes in. There are five of these beds on contour ranging 80 ft to 90 ft long. I will be planting about five fruit trees in each. I want to design guild of plants in this space that complement each other not only visually, but by their contributions to us, their companions and most importantly – the soil. Plant guilds are a much more sophisticated version of companion planting. For some great examples of plant guilds check out the free e-book available on Midwest Permaculture. As we plant out the rest of the contour beds adding more trees, shrubs, vines, etc… this will become more of a food forest.
M sketched this up for me while I prepared dinner the other night. It shows the different layers above and below the ground in the first bed we will plant. I wish I had his mad drawing skills…
- Asparagus – perennial food source. The stalks and ferns will die back to the ground providing organic matter and mulch for the soil
- Globe Artichokes – besides being another delicious perennial source of food I think they will help hold up the asparagus ferns later in the season. The dying stalks will serve as a “chop and drop” mulch in the fall breaking down and adding organic matter to the soil
- Sunflowers – like the artichokes they will help keep the asparagus ferns from falling over, add beauty and provide a food/seed source. Being an annual, when they die back not only will they provide mulch material in the fall, the roots will also die out building organic matter in the soil. With its deep roots it is considered a dynamic accumulator drawing up calcium, manganese, iron and zinc from the subsoil
- Lemon Catmint – mints are an insectary plant that attract beneficial insects. Its roots accumulate potassium and sulfur. I have a lot of seed that needs to be used up and I think it smells great
- Strawberry Clover – a perennial ground cover that will serve as a living mulch holding moisture in and fixing nitrogen as the plant cycles. It accumulates phosphorus. I’ve read the strawberry variety isn’t as invasive as red or white perennial clovers.
- Rhubarb – another tasty perennial food source. I think the leaves will add a nice contrast to the asparagus ferns – the eyes gotta eat too – and when the leaves die out they will become mulch
- Parsley – perennial, edible, herbaceous plant that is a dynamic accumulator of potassium, calcium, manganese and iron. Since you don’t harvest the roots, this should grow fine with the asparagus. Any deep rooted vegetables or herbs that have to be dug up to harvest are not a good companion for asparagus. You don’t want to disturb asparagus roots.
- Strawberries – delicious fruits and a nice ground cover. I read somewhere that the asparagus ferns help camouflage the berries from the birds.