To prepare the bed at the end of last year’s gardening season, I tilled the plot deeply and added a substantial amount of organic matter. Then, I covered the area with a heavy sowing of winter wheat and a bit of peat moss. In springtime, I normally just turn under the winter cover-crop, but because I am preparing this bed to sustain a crop that will produce for many years and because, the roots of a fully established bed of asparagus can reach down as deep as 10 feet below the surface, I am doing a considerable amount of extra soil amending. Deep roots are an indication that the plant is a heavy feeder. Knowing that asparagus can provide a bounty for 20 years, I want to be certain to really fortify the depths of this particular bed. Also, my soil tends to be heavy clay. Taking extra care now will benefit the longevity of this specialty crop. So, as the soil thawed out from the deep freeze of winter, I removed that thick, top, cover-crop and set it aside. To the base of heavy clay, added a large dose of compost, some well rotted horse manure. and some more peat moss, a bit of dolomite, a small amount of wood shavings/sawdust and about 20 pounds of crushed oyster shells . I thoroughly mix all these components with the existing soil and then, return the top layer of winter wheat that I took off and set aside. All of this extra amending of the soil will allow a strong start-off and permit the young plants to rapidly become a well established crop.
The picture above shows the prepared bed before planting asparagus crowns. Notice the richness of the soil, indicated by the deep brown color. Also note the winter wheat at the top of the picture. The wheat was planted in September of last year as cover crop for the winter season.
Planting the crowns will be done in a zig-zag manner to maximize use of the space. Each crown will be planted at an approximate depth of 10 inches, leaving roughly 18 inches between plants. Mixing a little of the complete organic fertilizer** (see recipe below) into the top layer of soil will give an extra boost to these one year old plants.
Once this bed is fully established, I am looking forward to many years of harvesting fresh asparagus each spring!
The Heirloom seed asparagus that I started in pots, is taking a long time to sprout. I will plant the remainder of that seed this week. There should be enough of those to trade or sell some to gardeners interested in adding a new variety to their garden.
**HOW TO MAKE AND USE A COMPLETE ORGANIC FERTILIZER.
Organic fertilizer is a premium slow release material. There is much less tendency to burn or over fertilize with it. A single fertilization at sowing or transplanting time is usually sufficient. Larger quantities of organic fertilizers are usually needed because of their slow release nature. Considering cost, organic fertilizer costs 3 – 8 times as much as chemicals when purchased all ready compounded, though complete organic fertilizer can be made at home quite inexpensively.
To use a complete organic fertilizer in a cost-effective manner, avoid broadcasting it. Instead, locate the fertilizer where it will do the most good — directly around the plant. When it is wet, organic fertilizer will heat and putrefy rapidly unless dispersed in the soil somewhat, so, do not locate in a concentrated manner in one spot. Below transplants, I recommend making a 3.5 inch deep furrow with a hoe, sprinkle complete organic fertilizer in the bottom of the furrow and then cover the fertilizer with soil by pushing back into the furrow the ridge located on one side of it. For seeds, make a furrow and add the fertilizer. Then, cover the soil and plant the seed on top of it and lightly cover with a little more soil. Used in this economical way, fertilizer goes a long way.
Here is a formula for a complete and fairly well balanced organic fertilizer. All quantities are in volume.
4 parts seed meal or fish meal; 1 part agricultural lime or dolomite; 1 part rock phosphate or 1/2 part bonemeal; 1/2 part kelp meal.
Seed meal is any kind of ground-up seed which is usually a byproduct of oil making. Soy and linseed meals are usually available. Fish meal tends to be odorous and it may attract cats** to your garden. All of these meals are high in nitrogen, contain moderate amounts of phosphorous and are weak in potassium. Agricultural lime or more balanced dolomite should be finely ground – 65 to 100 screen- so they act quickly. Do not use quick lime or slaked lime for fertilizing purposes. Bonemeal and rock phosphate are effective phosphate fertilizers. Bonemeal is faster acting, much more costly and tends to become lumpy. Kelp meal adds potassium and all necessary trace elements a plant could use.
**A word about cats in your vegetable garden: Toxoplasmosis is a dangerous parasite especially to pregnant women. Cats are frequently hosts of this parasite and therefore, should never be permitted to defecate in soil used for growing vegetables. Cats may be helpful in keeping away rodents and other small vermin but the benefit of allowing a cat into the garden is far outweighed by the downside of them transmitting disease to humans.