Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's Time to Plant Asparagus and Strawberries



It is time to prepare a spot to plant strawberries and asparagus.  Asparagus that arrives in your house from California via the grocery store is nothing like the tender vegetable you will harvest from your garden.   Local strawberry farms exist, but walking into your own garden to pick a strawberry snack whenever you want it is more fun. 

Strawberries and asparagus are perennials, which mean they stay in the garden all year long although they only produce a crop in the spring.  During the rest of the year, the plants continue to grow.  I do not have anything else growing in my strawberry and asparagus patches (except some weeds, of course), but if you lack space in the garden, you could intermingle plants that have different harvest times.  My asparagus bed is bare now, after I cut back the fronds when frost killed them, but I could have planted a winter crop of lettuce or beets among the buried asparagus crowns.  Broccoli might have enjoyed living among the asparagus during the late summer, where the asparagus fronds would shade it from summer’s heat.  Do not till the area or dig deeply because you will damage the asparagus.
Garden centers and catalogs will have strawberry plants and asparagus crowns available for purchase soon, if they are not already available.  Choose a sunny spot for your strawberry patch, till the soil, and mix in as much compost or rotted manure as you can afford.  Strawberries like acid soil, with a pH of about 5.5-6.5.  Most soils in the Midlands are already acidic; get a soil test if you are not sure about your soil.  Do not apply lime to strawberries unless you know your soil is extremely acidic, and do not put them where tomatoes, potatoes, or peppers have grown in the last several years because they are susceptible to the same diseases.  Strawberries like fertile soil with lots of nitrogen, so be sure to use plenty of organic fertilizer.

The “Guide to South Carolina Gardening,” by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing, recommends fertilizing an 8x30 foot area containing 30 plants with 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer a week or so before they are planted, and in June and in September.  If soil is sandy, they recommend applying the fertilizer in May, July, and October.  After the first season, they recommend fertilizing the plants in late winter with 4 pounds of 10-10-10.  This is a lot of fertilizer, and it is simpler and better for your plants and soil if you use compost and manure.  These recommendations do give you an idea of the large amount of fertilizer strawberries need, though.  This book is a great gardening resource because it gives planting information specific to South Carolina.
To grow asparagus, choose a sunny spot in the garden and dig a wide trench six to eight inches deep.  Asparagus is sold in crowns, which look sort of like spiders.  Mix in plenty of compost and organic fertilizer, and lay the crowns in the trench, with the buds up and the “legs” spread around, and fill in the trench with about two inches of the soil; fill in the trench gradually with the rest of the soil as they grow over the year. 

When tempting green spears poke through the soil, do not pick them.  Unfortunately, you have to wait until the third year after planting them for your first harvest, and then you can only harvest them for two weeks.  In subsequent years, harvest the spears for a couple of months, or until they grow skinny.  If you pick them too early or for too long, the root will exhaust itself and die.  The wait for the tender asparagus is worth it.  After all the working and waiting, in future years, keep the patch watered, and heavily mulched, and your work will be minimal.   

Plant strawberries late this winter, and enjoy the harvest this spring.  Go ahead and start your asparagus patch now, because the sooner you start it, the sooner you will have a harvest.

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