Asparagus: The Next Garden Adventure

Next up for the Fortress Garden: lots and lots of asparagus.

by Cyn Cady
PHOTO: Liz West/Flickr

“Olive oil … asparagus … if your mother wasn’t so fancy we could shop at the gas station like normal people.” —Homer Simpson

I, like Marge Simpson, have always been a fan of asparagus. Even as a kid, I loved it. Yet for some reason, I’ve never attempted to grow it … until now.

Mainly, the deterrent was lack of secured space. I don’t really have room in the Fortress Garden for a bed of the size I would need to plant an appropriate supply, but now that we have put up a fairly secure perimeter fence, I am preparing to venture outside of the Fortress Garden to build the mega-bed that will contain enough asparagus plants to feed my asparagus-lovin’ crew, and hopefully, provide enough extras so I can make and freeze asparagus soup, quiche and the like.

The smart people on the worldwide webway seem to agree on the calculations for planting: one plant per square foot, 10 plants per person. Because the boy one is away at college and the girl one just stares at me blankly when I suggest she eat dinner at home, I’m going to go for 30 plants: 10 for me, 10 for Danny and 10 for extras. This means I need a 30-square-foot bed.

Fortunately, I still have a lot of lumber left over from my super-thrifty purchase on Craigslist of 100 redwood fence boards for only $3 each. I used a lot to build the beds for the Fortress Garden, but I still have plenty left to build a big ol’ asparagus bed. I shall call it “The Bed of Destiny.” Or perhaps, more accurately: “The Bed of Hope.” If things do not work out, I can always change the name to “The Bed of Despairagus” and plant pansies in it.

Asparagus likes depth, so I need my bed to be at least 12 inches deep—not a problem, as I like my beds nice and tall so I don’t have to bend down so much. Three boards high makes them about 16 inches tall, and I’ll be sure to tack 1/2-inch hardware cloth across the bottom to deter the gophers. Because I’m building this bed outside the Fortress Garden, I’ll need to defend it from The Girls, as well, but that’s an easy fix; some bird netting will keep them at bay. In any case, I’m shooting to have everything ready by early spring.

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Asparagus is a long-term commitment. If properly cared for, the plants can continue to produce for up to 20 years. So I’m choosing my location carefully, where it won’t interfere with any future activities or shenanigans. This project will also call for patience: If I start with seeds, it will be two years before my first harvest. I’ll probably start with crowns that are at least 1 year old, and 2, if I can find them, to reduce the wait.

As for varieties, the internet gardening wizards uniformly recommend all-male types, like Jersey Knight or Jersey Giant. Luckily for me, the University of California has come up with “UC 157,” which is designed specifically for mild-winter areas like mine, so I’ll be checking that out for sure.

The wait will be worth it. I have to borrow from my 401k to buy organic asparagus from the local market. At 7 bucks a pound, it’s reserved as a special treat and can’t be squandered in experimental recipes or casseroles. But if the Bed of Hope produces, I’ll be in clover. Or asparagus.

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