If you've had aspirations of raising your own asparagus, this would be a good year to start a bed of this succulent, early-season perennial vegetable.
Jersey Giant, a new high-producing, disease-resistant hybrid male asparagus, has been developed by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers, and it is now available to home gardeners, primarily through mail-order nursery catalogs.
Crowns of this new asparagus cost about twice as much as those ofconventional cultivars. But the extra expense is well justified, says Dr. Charles A. McClurg, vegetables specialist for the Cooperative Extension Service University of Maryland System.
"About 15 years ofuseful production can be expected from asparagus beds planted with conventional cultivars," McClurg said. "You can expect an additional five years from the Jersey Giant."
Asparagus should be planted in soil which has plenty of organic matter. Manure or compost can be incorporated as the bed is prepared. Take a soil test to check for pH level and nutrient requirements. Asparagus does best in sandy loam soil with a fairly neutral pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.
Because it is fairlytolerant to salt, asparagus can be grown near the ocean or alongsidehighways where salt is applied during winter months.
Your asparagus bed should have good drainage and be located in full sun, well away from trees.
Use 5-10-10 as a starter fertilizer if you're planting Jersey Giant asparagus. Repeat the application every year in earlyspring. Use 10-10-10 fertilizer on conventional types.
When planting asparagus, make a trench eight inches deep. Plant crowns with thebud side up and roots spread out. Cover with two inches of soil. Gradually fill trench as the plants grow. Plant crowns 12 inches apart in the row, with five feet between rows.
Do not harvest asparagus spear during the first year after planting your bed. In their second year, asparagus spears can be harvested for about two weeks. In the third year, four weeks. After that, asparagus beds can withstand six weeks of harvest each spring. Wait until fern growth is killed by frostbefore removing old stalks in the fall.
Asparagus is usually the first vegetable -- or one of the first -- to be harvested from your garden each spring. Expect to start harvesting in early April if you live in central Maryland or the Washington area. When stored properly,home-grown asparagus is far superior to what you can buy at the supermarket.
For more information on asparagus, including supply sources for Jersey Giant, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service education center. Telephone numbers can be found under county government listings in your Maryland telephone directory. Or call the cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center at 1-800-342-2507 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.