The directions on "How To Establish An Asparagus Bed" call for enthusiastic work digging a trench, establishing a "W" formation within that trench, reserving the remaining soil, adding fertilizers, carefully spreading the roots over the "W" formation, gradually refilling the trench with the reserved soil, weeding, mulching and waiting.
According to John Scheepers Garden Seeds, establishing an asparagus bed takes a little patience, but "the payoff is huge: bushels of 'free' asparagus every spring for the next 20, 30 or even 40 years."
Scheepers recommends starting asparagus seeds indoors and simultaneously preparing a cushy, little outdoor, weed-free "asparagus nursery." That's where you use your tape measure and develop a grid pattern so the little seedlings, after a period of hardening-off, will grow exactly 3 to 5 inches apart with plenty of room to fill out. Coddle the little treasures with plenty of water and an occasional shot of fertilizer. In the meantime, get your permanent asparagus patch situated in a spot with full to partial sun and well- draining soil. Scheepers instructions recommend digging in 4 inches of rotted manure.
"A Rich Spot of Earth," by Peter Hatch, provided Thomas Jefferson's instructions for preparation of Monticello's asparagus squares, which went something like this: Cover the best soil in the garden with 12 inches of well-rotted manure, dig it in two spades deep, add 3 more inches of manure and repeat. Jefferson's belief in the power of manure was so complete that when his asparagus squares were being established, his gardeners were instructed to drop a wagon load of the stuff every five yards.
If you'd like to try growing your own asparagus, you may choose to be as meticulous as Scheepers, as pro-nutrient as Jefferson, or you might go the more laid-back route. An Ohio State horticulture and crop science fact sheet recommends casually digging a furrow no deeper than 5 or 6 inches. The research shows that the deeper asparagus crowns are planted, the more the total yield is reduced. And you can forget fussing with the "W" shape.
Toss in a pound of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate) or two pounds of 0-20-0 (superphosphate) for a 50- foot row, and then drop the crowns on top of the fertilizer. The asparagus will grow regardless of how it lands, and the phosphorus will become available to the crowns immediately.
The Ohio State group is more rigid about the spacing of crowns and furrows. Space the crowns 1 to 1 1/2 feet apart and rows about 5 feet apart. Then fill the furrow to its original soil level, water, weed and wait.
Asparagus is our most perishable vegetable, so the flavor of asparagus transported the average 1,500 miles to a store can't compare to home-grown.
It might take some planning and preparation this year, but as Scheepers points out, your work could result in decades of bushels of asparagus - free!
* 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 17 and 9 to 11 a.m. May 18, Blair Garden Club Plant Sale, Dorman's Jewelry Store, 712 Pleasant Valley Blvd., Altoona
Contact Teresa Futrick by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.