Many (most) people when planting asparagus buy crowns (root sets), that are usually 1-2 year old plants costing around $1.00 each. However, for less than $2.00 you can purchase a seed packet with 200 seeds and winter sow your own asparagus farm! Starting asparagus from seed does take a little longer for the plants to start producing, but it is an easy way to grow strong, healthy plants for a fraction of the cost.
How to do it:
Choose an asparagus variety or several. If you want to prolong your harvest season, choose some early, midseason, and some late varieties such as Ariane, Atlas, Crimson Pacific, Mary Washington, and Grande. Heirloom asparagus seed (such as Mary Washington) is open pollinated, meaning there will be both female and male plants. Male plants are much more productive then the female ones since female plants put much of their energy into producing seed whereas male plants produce more spears. You can purchase F1 hybrid seed (Apollo, Atlas, Ariane,Dariana, Ginger, Grande, Jersey, Stewart’s Purple, etc.). You can also buy seeds that are all male (androecious) F1 Hybrids, called “supermales”. These seeds will not produce female plants and so will not set seed. If you are into seed saving then you should choose an open-pollinated variety. For more info on asparagus breeding and hybridization click here.
Winter Sow your seeds. Start the seeds as soon as January in a mini-greenhouse outside, made of old milk or soda bottles. For a complete tutorial on winter sowing click here.
Ones the weather has warmed up and the seeds have germinated, you can plant them out in a garden spot that has rich soil and will receive attentive care. This may not be their permanent space, but rather one from which you can nurture them well through their first summer.
While you are caring for your new asparagus seedlings you can also prepare their permanent bed. Because asparagus bed will be with you for decades, it’s a good idea to assure their happiness and prepare it right. An asparagus bed should be located in mostly sun, and should be 4ft wide, with plants spaced about 1.5 feet apart. Asparagus need to be planted deep compared to other plants, about 10 inches. Work some manure or compost into the soil and let it sit for the first year while you are nurturing your seedlings. Keep the weeds down by covering the bed with cardboard and heaping straw, leaves, compost or whatever else you want on top. When the time comes to plant, you will have a perfect spot.
After the first season, if you are not concerned with saving seed from your plants, you can remove the female plants to the compost pile. Commercial growers see some advantages of male plants over female plants including that they emerge earlier, live longer, and produce more spears. The female plants can be identified by the red berries they produce.
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