Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Burning the Asparagus Bed; One of the Unofficial Starts to the Gardening Year

It's kind of hard to get a good photo of a fire going through an asparagus bed, but trust me that's what it is
I've been meaning to burn off the asparagus bed for a couple of weeks or so, but it's been snowing, drizzling rain, or the winds been blowing too much almost every day but it finally warmed up today so it's time to start a fire and burn all those old asparagus ferns off of the bed.   

There's not much to say about burning an asparagus bed besides I lit a match, a small fire started burning, and then with a big WHOOSH it was all burned.  That's basically all there is to growing asparagus, burn it off in the spring to kill all the over-wintering asparagus beetles, pick the spears when they start growing, throw a little compost and mulch on the bed after the ferns start growing, rinse and repeat every year, and that's all you need to do to have garden-fresh asparagus each spring .

Twenty years ago, I never would have guessed that I'd ever be looking forward to that first asparagus spear of the year.


  1. Had a blizzard here today.

    No gardening in sight.

    1. It's supposed to be colder than normal for the next week or so with snow and freezing rain, but hopefully that will be the last of the winter storms until next year.

      There's that old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, and usually that's how it works around here.

      I'll be planting potatoes sometime around St. Patrick's Day.

  2. We just got four inches of new snow so no burning asparagus up here. Generally we do that in a couple weeks toward the middle of March. I love asparagus and like you said, it is probably the easiest vegetable to grow.

    1. I planted that asparagus at least ten years ago, and the crowns came from another bed that had to be over fifteen years old when I dug it up, so there's no telling how long a planting of asparagus could last.

      That old bed had been planted in the wrong place, so I went out about this time of year with a spading fork and dug up all the crowns that I could. Some of the crowns were big enough to fill a wheelbarrow, so I transplanted them by just digging a big enough hole for them to fit, throwing some compost all over the area, and watering them good. As soon as spring started springing, I was eating asparagus because those crowns were so old and big that transplanting didn't phase them a bit.

      That makes me wonder how long an asparagus plant might survive.

    2. I'm glad to hear that you were able to relocate old crowns. I tried that a week or so ago, before everything got covered up in white crap and ice. I did it with the backhoe, though... holy cow, those things can get huge. I filled my lawn mower cart to overflowing multiple times. I think I had something like 75 crowns.

      So now, after reading what you wrote, maybe I actually will get a little bit of asparagus yet this year. I sure would like some.

      The reason I relocated was because I realized that when I originally planted it, I planted it as a block... and the problem with that is that it is really tedious to weed and gets infested with blackberry thorns. And then it was right where I had to look at it all summer.

      So I took my block and converted it into a long strip. Then I'll be able to just mow down each side of it. And I can drive the mower with cart to distribute compost. Because the less stuff I have to move with my back, the happier I am.

      I also found some UC-72 asparagus seed on ebay for three bucks or so, and decided to plant another strip of that. So in a few years, I'll have it coming out of my ears again.

    3. I planted my asparagus in a double row, but a single row sounds like it might work better if I ever want a patch to last fifty years since it seems like there would be less chance of overcrowding.

      I'm not that picky about weeding much of anything, I'll usually just pull some weeds whenever I'm picking, then I'll spread a little mulch after I'm done harvesting for the year. Any weed that I happen to see showing it's head through the mulch will get pulled or covered up. Since I started burning the patch in the spring there seems to be slightly less weeds early in the year (either that or they're easier to pull).

      Of course, I don't have to deal with blackberries, so all of that might not apply to blackberries in the asparagus. ("Blackberries in the asparagus" sounds like the name of an odd book, goofy song, or weird band, so I hereby claim it for myself in perpetuity)

      Seventy-five asparagus plants sounds like it would produce enough asparagus to almost be classified as a small farm.

    4. That sounds like a good country song!

      Back in 2008, I bought a seed packet of Mary Washington asparagus. It's not supposed to be quite as prolific or disease resistant as some of the hybrids or newer varieties, but we definitely had a lot of great asparagus to enjoy the past few years. It's easy to get a bunch of plants that way... just takes a little longer.

      The only complaint I've had is that the plot would get really weedy, with ragweed and blackberries mixed in. I'm not overly picky about weeding, but I'd never remember to bring my gloves with me early in the season, so they would get out-of-control pretty fast. Not real pretty to look at. So I think the long strips a bit farther away and off to the side will be much better.

      I'm converting berries and my vegetable plots to strips with enough room to mow around too.

      The UC-72 is supposed to be more prolific and disease-resistant, so I figured I'd plant another strip while I'm at it. For three bucks and some patience, I can have another 75 plants. Then I'll have the option of freezing some.

    5. The award-winning song "Blackberries in the Asparagus" would almost write itself,

      "Her love was unexpected like asparagus in the spring,
      plentiful and flavorful with no effort from me,
      but I neglected the patch,
      and the blackberries took it all.

      If only I'd always brought my gloves,
      I'd have kept back the blackberries,
      the asparagus would still grow,
      and I'd still have her love.

      Oh, blackberries in the asparagus,
      they were the end of it all."

      Or something similar to that that was good.

      It never occurred to me that it would be relatively easy to grow asparagus from seed, I might have to try that so I can have piles of asparagus to eat myself sick each spring.

    6. HAHAHAHAHAHA... HAHAHA... HAHA... that's great, Rich. I can almost hear the tune and the crooning!

      I balked at buying the crowns in 2008... I wanted asparagus, but it seemed like a fair-sized gamble to buy a handful of crowns for the money... but when I saw a seed packet at Baker Creek, I decided to gamble $2.50. Plenty of people on the Internet say it is hard to grow from seed, etc... but, as usual, my experience doesn't jive with that at all.

      I just planted them in some compost in a window box planter. Stuck it near the woodstove with some plastic bags over it, kept it moist, and eventually I had a bunch of little ferns coming up. I put them outside when I could. When they were several inches tall, I transplanted into the garden. Some people say it is hard to transplant... I wonder if they've every tried it? I dunno... I'm pretty sure every single one survived and thrived.

      I'm hoping this new seed goes the same way. I got a packet of 100 seeds that claim to have 85% germination... so we'll see. I really like being able to harvest a good-sized bunch every day for a few weeks in spring.

    7. Next year at the CMA awards, I'll be looking for the artist with the hit single "Blackberries In the Asparagus"!

    8. I'll try extra hard not to forget all the little people that helped me get up on that stage, so when you see that artist at the awards show pointing randomly towards the audience as he accepts his well-deserved award just remember that he's pointing at you, you and especially you.

      Thank you, thank you very much.

    9. While looking at pictures of asparagus crowns on the internet, I can't help but think they kind of look like an alien that I've seen in a movie but can't place my mind on the name. It was in a lab and there were several people in the lab and the thing started flailing about. Half the people outside of the lab didn't want to let them out but eventually the people in the lab got out and they incinerated the bugger. I want to say it was one of the movies in the Alien franchise but am not positive.

    10. Are you thinking about 'The Thing' with Kurt Russell about an alien that was thawed out from the ice in Antarctica? It would send out tentacles to it's victims and take over their bodies.

      Kurt Russell ended up burning down almost the entire base and freezing to death trying to kill the alien.

      Back when I was a kid, I watched that movie and thought it would kind of cool to work in Antarctica on a remote outpost. I still think it would be cool and if I had to battle an alien to save the world, it would be even cooler.

    11. I don't think it was The Thing, any of the remakes anyway. After thinking about it, the scene is in a lab and they inject alien DNA into a cell and it begins to rapidly grow and expand worrying the occupants of the lab. They try to leave but the people outside the lab don't want to let them out for fear that they are now infected. Eventually they get out in the nick of time but not before the alien (asparagus crown looking thing) flops around the lab for awhile. As soon as they are out of the lab they hit the incinerate button and the whole lab goes up in flames.

      I seem to think Ben Kingsley and Michael Madsen were in it which leads me to think it was probably one of the Species movies but darn if I can find anything on the net to confirm my suspicions.

    12. I'm 100% sure that it is the original movie Species but I have yet to find a picture or video of the lab scene. I did find the script and they try growing the alien by injecting itself into its own DNA. I wish I could find that picture but I might search for it and see if I have the movie on Netflix and rewatch it. Entertaining and probably faster.

    13. Darn blogger... killed my comment...

      Anyway, just came to say that my asparagus is finally sprouting. I read the instructions after I planted it (doh) and it said to soak for 48 hours at 90 deg... I'm sure that would have shortened germination time considerably. Also, we had some days that started out sunny, so I put them by the window and then it got overcast and cool... so soil temps were not up where they should have been (peppers suffered from stuck seedcoats too... started new batch and going to watch temp/humidity better this time).

      I have a thermometer in with the asparagus now, and the temp is about 85 with little spear popping up good now. So if you feel like gambling, starting asparagus from seed seems like reasonable odds.

    14. I need some sort of way to make me remember to buy some asparagus seeds next year so I'll have enough time to get them up and growing so I can get them planted in the garden while it's still spring.

      I wonder what would be the best way to keep the temperature around 90 deg while the seeds are soaking for two days? Just put them under a plastic cover and set them in the sun like they would be after they've been planted?

    15. I dunno... that would probably work, as long as temps didn't go too high. I've never soaked seed, and always had great germination by putting the flats on a wire rack above the woodstove, with plastic grocery bags over them.

      For some reason, I skipped the wire shelf earlier this year, and had the seeds directly in front of the woodstove, and it was a lot harder to regulate the temps.

      When we lived up north, I put the seeds on the floor over the furnace and that worked well too.

  3. I've heard asparagus is similar to strawberries in that they go through a prime and then gradually decline to a point where it is better to replant. I pick wild asparagus in fence rows near our farm and I know there hasn't been anybody planting there in my lifetime. They don't taste nearly as tender and flavorful as the bed my parents planted a decade ago in our garden. I suspect they will grow forever until an acclimate weather condition puts the kabosh on them.

    1. After a quick search online I found this:

      The info in that article sounds so close to the way I transplanted my patch that there's a pretty good chance that I read it back when I was doing my transplanting.

      According to this article a "well tended" asparagus patch can last up to 50 years. I'd guess that "well tended" is just a matter of adding a little fertility once in a while, mulching to cut down on competition from grass and weeds, and burning to reduce insect damage.

      According to the MotherEarthNews article, overcrowding is supposed to be the biggest problem with an old patch, so it's better to plant crowns farther apart to delay that overcrowding as long as possible. Reading that makes me wish I'd planted those old crowns a little bit farther apart.