Managing a quarter acre farm may seem like a manageable task, but growing exclusively annual crops would create a significant amount of work that one to two people would have a hard time doing. Choosing some perennial crops such as the fruit we have planted as well as some perennial vegetables gives us a saleable crop that doesn’t require a significant amount of manual intervention. We plan on several perennial crops such as radicchio, rhubarb, sorrel and asparagus.
We started on this project the other day by building two long and relatively narrow beds that will house our asparagus. We bought twenty 6’ cedar fence panels at a local home improvement store along with treated 2X4’s that happened to be in a 70% off cart (SCORE!!!!!). With those and some decking screws, we created two beds that measure 3’WX12’LX1’H. Construction was easy; we simply aligned the boards to the support boards and drilled them in place for the side panels, then put the panels upright to secure the ends. These are strong beds, except where the two 6 foot segments are joined. We chose to pound a support pole into the ground at this spot where the beds were sighted to keep the beds from bowing under the pressure of the fill dirt.
Next we placed cardboard in the bed to kill the turf and suppress any regrowth. The cardboard acts as a weed barrier and as it decomposes, adds brown matter to the bed.
We then filled the bed with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss and two grit varieties of sand. Rough and fine sand provide superior drainage in the soil as asparagus likes a rich, moisture retentive yet good draining soil (it is a delicate flower!). About 30 trips to the soil mound later and one of the beds was filled and ready to plant.
We selected two (for now) traditional varieties of asparagus as a regular crop. Jersey Giant variety is an all male hybrid that is highly productive and very vigorous. It is best for high yield, fine flavor and the largest succulent spears. We also selected Mary Washington asparagus (Asparagus officinalis “Mary Washington”) is one of the older and most common asparagus varieties. This perennial vegetable is harvested in spring, producing a high yield of tender spears from a rhizome crown. Tender asparagus spears are snapped or cut close to the ground to harvest. The spears are actually undeveloped ferns which transfer energy to the crown in preparation for winter when allowed to develop in summer and fall
Plant asparagus crowns with the top about 3-4 inches from the top of the soil, spread the roots out so they get a good start establishing themselves in the bed. Cover back over, water well and then mulch.
Asparagus does well with an annual top dressing of well composted manure mixed with sharp sand. Keep the bed well watered until the plants get well established. You cannot harvest spears the first year. It is also not recommended to take too many in the second year. But in the third year you can harvest more, increasing the number of spears harvested over the next two years. Once established and well cared for, Asparagus can produce crops from between 20 and 30 years without much work.
Tender, delicious asparagus is an in demand vegetable in the early spring market and should prove to be a great, reliable organic crop that we can provide to our market customers.