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Asparagus is the earliest vegetable you can harvest from your garden in the spring. The young, tender shoots of asparagus usually reach cutting size about the 2nd week of May. If the temperature and moisture conditions are good, you should be able to harvest it every other day. Asparagus shoots are best cut when 6-8 inches high. Push your knife into the soil close to the shoot, cutting it 1-2 inches below the soil surface.

Asparagus plants can be started from seed, but if you need only a few plants for your garden, you're probably better off to buy the asparagus crowns from a local nursery. "Jersey Giant" or one of the male hybrids are the recommended varieties.

Before planting the asparagus crowns, work a liberal amount of organic matter or barnyard manure into the soil. Asparagus respond very well to a liberal application of fertilizer. The crowns should be planted in a trench 4-6 inches deep in rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Space the crowns 18 inches apart in the row. You then, cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil. As the shoots grow, add soil around the young shoots until the trench is filled.

Your asparagus bed should be fertilized each year by adding well-rotted manure at the rate of one bushel per 30 square feet. If you don't have a source of well-rotted manure, 10-10-10 commercial fertilizer at the rate of 1-2 cups over 10 feet of row can be used. Weed control is necessary for good yielding asparagus.

After you have your asparagus planted don't expect immediate results. It should not be harvested until the third year after planting. The first two years are important for getting the plants well established. Harvesting can start when the first shoots appear in the spring and continue up to the 4th of July. Don't be greedy and harvest asparagus after this time. The plants need this time to store up food in their roots for next spring's crop. Vigorous leafy growth is the best assurance of a good yield the following season. Allow the asparagus top to remain through the winter to catch snow and provide extra moisture for next year. The tops can be removed early next spring. A well weeded asparagus bed should last 35 to 40 years without renewal.

Todd Weinmann, Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator
Phone: (701) 241-5707

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