Garden for Dollars, Grow Asparagus

January 29th, 2009

Escaped Asparagus growing in a fieldOne of my favorite things about gardening is that you’re making free food. Well, not exactly free is it? Anymore than anything is free. You spend the time, you buy the gardening supplies, fertilizer, etc. Many people probably do garden at a loss, I’m sure I do, but I enjoy it, so there is that.

There are plants you can grow, which, I think give you more bang for your buck than other plants.

For instance, in choosing a shade tree for your yard, you could plant an oak tree, or you could plant a walnut tree. Both drop nuts, but Walnuts are much more palatable to humans (though, you can eat Acorns in a pinch). Nuts are very expensive at the store, and having your own supply can save you big bucks. You’ll have to shell your own of course, but in the shell nuts keep for longer AND all those empty shells are compost fodder.

For a Spring followering tree you could plant a redbud, or other ornamental, or an apple or pear tree. Both give you flowers, and relatively small size (dwarf and semidwarf varieties are readily available), but the apple or pear tree give you fresh fruit as well. My pear tree planted in 2004 was bought for $20 at Lowes, and came about 6 feet tall, it is now around 20 feet tall and produced last year (it’s fourth year in my yard for those keeping track) around 40 super sweet ripe awesome pears. Big round fresh fruit can be as much as a few dollars per pound at the store. I’m not even talking organic fruit or stuff at Wholefoods or places like that. I shop at a regular old supermarket, and their apples can get as high as $2 each. $80 in production from this still very young tree is pretty good. You also get a higher quality product because fruit left to ripen on the tree does not ship very well, and in fact should be eaten within a day, but man oh man, it is so sweet and juicy.

I’ve also talked on this blog before about raspberries, my favorite edible for saving money, but I’ll admit it isn’t the most attractive plant, so perhaps not a good substitution as the others above were.

This blog post though, is about asparagus. Asparagus is relatively unique among veggies in that it is a perennial, not an annual. Now, from the standpoint of saving money, perennials are a bargain. You buy them once (or start them from seed once) instead of once per year. Additionally, because perennials establish root systems that go deeper and further than annuals, they need less water and less fertilizer. So the savings come all around.

Asparagus is also one of those plants that taste better when eaten fresh, after picking sugars in the plant start converting to starch, so the sooner after picking you eat it the better. And of course it is also fairly expensive in the store, so you’re getting more buck for your acre.

Asparagus I also find is fairly ornamental. The foliage becomes tall and airy, not unlike an ornamental grass, it also clumps somewhat, so I think it could be used the same way as an ornamental grass in an ornamental garden. Additionally it has some fern like qualities as well, but of course for full sun. See the picture with this post of some growing in a field.

The only downside with asparagus is that while you can plant it once and eat for decades, it can take a year for your first harvest. Depending on the size of the roots (and asparagus is sold bareroot) you will probably need to let it just grow the first year without harvesting (though, if some big mamajama spears poke up, feel free to eat them). See, harvesting stresses the plant and you want it to get nicely established in year one, in subsequent years if after harvesting you notice it start putting up weaker and thinner spears (pencil size or smaller) stop harvesting for the year. So generally, you harvest asparagus for a few weeks to two months in the Spring, and then let the plants mature and rebuild for the rest of the year until the following Spring.

I’ve grown asparagus for a few years now, but I am doubling my capacity this Spring because I’ve had good success with asparagus here and after trying other veggies in a certain spot I decided to just go with asparagus there as well. I shopped around and the best deal I found was at Park Seed (direct link to the product on their site). They have 40 plants for $29.95. That is pretty good. Also, both varieties are good (I grow them both). If you do not get this set, when shopping for asparagus male plants are priced at a premium, not because they taste better or grow better, but because the females can go to seed and then you’ll have volunteers all over your garden, which might not be your cup of tea.

To plant asparagus plant them deep, like you would a bulb, spread their roots out in a cone, like you would a daylily, and cover with enriched soil and fluffy mulch.

To cook asparagus, my favorite way is to boil for 3 minutes (exactly, cooking it too long is a bad idea), drain, and then transfer to a hot skillet with a little olive oil (or butter) in it, add the asparagus, squeeze in some lemon juice, toss in some lemon zest, and a little garlic, and saute for a minute or so.

12 Responses to “Garden for Dollars, Grow Asparagus”

  1. Raquel Weber  Says:

    Great Post!I share your philosophy of using useful plants in the garden. Fruit trees, and nut trees, and herbs-all of these are landscape choices that will enhance your environment more and more with each coming year.
    Asparagus is a plant that I always try to encourage people to include in their garden although I have had some difficulty growing it myself. Ornamental, flavorful, I agree!

  2. Watch My Food Grow  Says:

    I never thought of putting a value on vegetables and then growing the most expensive items myself. I may consider that for next year.

    By way of introduction, I’m new to growing my own food. On a complete whim, I built a raised vegetable garden a couple weeks ago and loaded it up with plants.

    Already, however, I’m aching to expand. I keep seeing other vegetables and wishing I had room to plant them. Or, I start to make something and find I have four of the five ingredients in my garden. If I doubled the plot’s size, I could fulfill all my needs…. until I fill that one up, too.

    —Farmer Matt

  3. Dominique Depaz  Says:

    Great article.

    I agree that growing your own vegetables is fun, healthier and tastier than store bought produce. Unfortunately, I don’t think the weather in central Florida is conducive to growing asparagus. Our window is very narrow (2 months in the fall and the spring). Our insect pressure is enormous in the summer and fungus diseases become unmanageable. But may be I am wrong. Do you know if asparagus can grow in our humid climate?

  4. charles  Says:

    I am an up and comming gardener, and I wanted to thank you for your excellent blog. It really helps to inspire me when I read some of your articles.

  5. Rochelle  Says:

    I’m wondering if you could go a little further into the planting phase of your article. I’ve heard that the asparagus plant is a heavy feader. Any suggestions on what to add to the soil each year? Or was I hearing wrong?

  6. Administrator  Says:

    I’ve heard that too, but whatever. How do you measure how much fertilizer a plant needs? Do you see at which point it doesn’t grow better and then that amount of fertilizer is it’s max and what you should use?

    All my garden soil is good, fertilized with bloodmeal and bonemeal, and ammended with compost and mycorrhizal. I hardly do anything special, EXCEPT…

    1. In ornamental beds with a lot of flowers, I use more bone meal (or bulb booster stuff). Same in places with fruiting plants.

    2. Where I’m trying to create good green growth I put down more blood meal or high nitrogen fertilizer. This is for non-fruiting trees, grass (lawn and ornamental) anything that doesn’t flower or fruit (or that I don’t want to), lettuces, and yes, that includes asparagus.

    That is a good rule of thumb to remember. If you want something to produce more vegetative growth (stems, trunks, branches, leaves) use nitrogen or blood meal. If you want things to produce more flowers or fruit, use more bone meal or phosphorus.

    I wonder about the efficacy of overplanting Asparagus with beans/peas or another legume. If your asparagus is wide enough apart it may work, and after the asparagus is done being harvested in the Spring you could still harvest the beans/peas. Of course the benefit is that legumes add nitrogen to the soil, so, in the end, your legumes would be fertilizing your asparagus (assuming the crowding and competition didn’t take away more than it gave).

    Might be worth trying if someone wants to do a expirement. Plant two plots side by side equally spaced asparagus in each, but in one plot put in a legume crop between the asparagus. Run it for a couple years (or get innoculated bean seeds so you can be sure they have the right bacteria) and see which asparagus plot performs better. (make sure to eliminate all other variables though, equal sun, equal water, equal extra fertilizer, equal starting soil).

  7. Gardening Seeds  Says:

    Thank you very much for the information I really appreciate it!!

  8. FM2YO  Says:

    My husband loves asparagus, I hate the stuff, but he wants to try to grow it. I guess he will be cooking outside, but….. Anyway, how well does it stand up to wind and rain? We live on the coast of Oregon, so it gets a bit wet and windy here. Now would be a good time to tell me that it won’t do well here and that will be that. He will have to find another source? Tee Hee!

    Thank you for sharing your time and information. You are appreciated.

  9. Horace  Says:

    Great article! That sounds like a cool way to cook asparagus. I’ll be sure to try it out!

  10. Administrator  Says:

    Asparagus can need support, especially when young, in high winds, but having it topple over isn’t a huge deal, so long as you’re not growing it for an ornamental reason.

  11. Chris  Says:

    Good information! We planted a 4X8 bed with asparagus and will get our first harvest this year. We can’t wait. I’m putting in a lot of raspberries this year. They definitely are worth giving some garden space to. I have a few raspberries in my yard already and loved going out to pick my breakfast.

  12. kring  Says:

    can you grow asparagus under an oak tree?

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