Categories
Gardening

Native Wildflowers for Spring and Early Summer Shade Gardens

Planting a mix of different perennials is the secret to creating a shady garden that looks its best over a long season—whether you are growing wildflowers or a mix of native and non-native plants.

A good mix ensures a progression of flowers, since different plants emerge and bloom at different times.

Be sure to include plants that feature handsome foliage as well as pretty flowers, since the foliage adds interest long after the blooms have faded. In addition to the wildflowers listed here, native ground covers also make excellent additions to shade gardens.

Give the wildflowers listed here rich, well-drained soil. All bloom best in partial shade, although they also tolerate full shade.

Wildflowers for Spring Bloom

Wildflowers for Spring Bloom
Wildflowers for Spring Bloom

For flowers in early and mid-spring, consider the following species.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) produces its dainty white flowers shortly before the scalloped, kidney-shaped leaves appear. The 4- to 6-inch-tall plants spread via fleshy rhizomes to form clumps a foot or more across. Zones 3 to 9.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia pulmonarioides) is grown for its clusters of nodding, bell-shaped flowers with pink buds that open into blue flowers. The 1- to 2-foot-tall plants, which grow from white carrotlike roots, produce clumps of blue-green leaves that can reach 1 foot across. They go dormant in early summer after the flowers fade. Zones 3 to 9.

Large merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora), also called large-flowered bellwort, isn’t as well known as some native wildflowers. Plants range from 1 to 1½ feet tall and wide. They feature pendant yellow flowers, each with six petal-like tepals, and produce handsome clumps of foliage. Zones 3 to 9.

Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), also known as woodland phlox, bears showy clusters of fragrant flowers in shades of lavender, pale violet-purple, or white. Plants are 12 to 14 inches tall and gradually form clumps that can reach 2 feet wide. They also self sow. Zones 3 to 9.

Natives for Late Spring and Early Summer

Natives for Late Spring and Early Summer
Natives for Late Spring and Early Summer

Consider the following species for flowers a little later in the season.

Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) bears clusters of four-petaled, saucer-shaped, golden yellow flowers above deeply lobed leaves. Plants range from 1 to 1½ feet tall and form 1-foot-wide clumps. They self sow. Zones 4 to 8.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) produces plumy, branched clusters of white flowers above clumps of pinnate leaves. This is a shrub-size perennial that ranges from 3 to 6 feet tall. In warm climates, a spot with constantly moist soil that receives afternoon shade is best. Plants can tolerate full sun in the North. They will spread to 4 feet or more, especially in moist soil. Zones 3 to 7.

Solomon’s plume (Smilacina racemosa), also called false Solomon’s seal, is a 1½- to 3-foot tall native that produces arching stems that end in fluffy, 4- to 6-inch plumes of tiny, creamy white flowers. The stems are clothed in attractive lance-shaped leaves. Red berries follow the flowers. Plants spread slowly by creeping rhizomes and also self-sow. Zones 4 to 9.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is primarily grown for its handsome foliage. Plants produce arching stems with lance-shaped leaves. Small clusters of greenish to white flowers appear in each leaf axil. This species ranges from 1½ to as much as 7 feet tall, and clumps spread by rhizomes to 3 feet or more. Zones 3 to 9.

Planting Successful Shade Gardens

Planting Successful Shade Gardens
Planting Successful Shade Gardens

To get your wildflowers off to a good start, always incorporate plenty of compost or other well-rotted organic matter into the soil before you plant. You can spread it before planting or incorporate it into each hole as you move plants to the garden. An even easier way to improve garden soil without digging is covering the site with newspaper and mulch to smother weeds and prepare soil before you plant.

Once your plants are in place, mulch the garden with shredded bark or chopped leaves. Be sure to keep them well watered. Test for moisture by sticking a finger into the ground next to a plant. Water if the soil feels dry. Monitor soil moisture closely and water regularly for the first few months after planting. After that, mulching and natural rainfall should be sufficient.

When acquiring wild flowers for your garden, avoid plants that you suspect have been dug in the wild. Look for plants that are marked as being nursery propagated. Or buy from local botanical gardens or native plant societies. Never dig plants from wild areas.

Categories
Gardening Tips

Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners

How to Site and Prepare Your Organic Vegetable Garden

Deciding where your garden is going to be located and preparing the area for planting are the first two critical steps towards building a healthy and productive organic garden.

Sunlight vs. Shade

While some cool-weather crops may benefit from a little shade from the hot summer sun, most garden crops prefer full sun. Structures such as the house, garage, privacy fences, and trees, or the like, may impact how much light any given area will receive as the sun tracks across the sky. Identify which areas receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. These will be your prime gardening areas.

Don’t Be Overambitious

As in any new undertaking, there’s a learning curve. You’re better off making a modest start for the first season and building on your success, rather than biting off more work than you can easily manage and feeling too overwhelmed to carry through.

How big your first vegetable garden should depend largely on how much time you’ve got to devote to it. According to Growing Fruits & Vegetables Organically, a Rodale Garden Book, a garden plot, only 16 square feet can provide a surprising amount of food over the course of a growing season; a novice gardener shouldn’t attempt more than 200 square feet.

Consider Your Options

Consider your garden’s water requirements. If the best place to garden on your property is too far for a garden hose to reach, are you really prepared to hand carry buckets of water out to it all season long? If not, your best bet may be to go with your second or even third best choice.

There’s no rule that says your garden has to all be in one place or even that it all has to be in the ground. If the sunniest spot in your yard is a patio, or you live in an apartment and only have balcony space in which to garden, you can grow many vegetables in containers.

Site Preparation

Ideally, preparing the site should be done in the autumn before you intend to start your garden. Once you’ve decided where your garden will go, it’s time to clear out all the existing organic matter. If it’s a lawn, it should be lifted out a spade-full at a time in thin slabs and piled upside down. Keep it moistened and the grass will decay. The whole pile will be a great soil amendment by spring, providing it wasn’t treated with chemicals. You could still add it to your flower beds as mulch if it was chemically treated.

If you’re dealing with a weedy mess, mow or pull as much of it as you can. Add this organic matter to your compost pile, unless it’s already gone to seed. In that case, it should be disposed of with your household trash. Till or dig the soil under. Bear in mind that the weed seeds already buried in the soil will continue to haunt you.

Soil Preparation

Soil Preparation
Soil Preparation

Examine your soil to see if it’s mostly sand, clay or loam. Sandy soil will feel gritty and won’t hold together well when wet. Clay will feel slippery and sticks together well when wet. Loam is mostly organic material with both kinds of particles in it and will hold together somewhat when wet.

Soil that is mostly clay will be hard to dig in, especially if it’s compacted from foot traffic. Sandy soil can become compacted, too, after getting a lot of foot or vehicle traffic. It’s best to loosen hard-packed soil with a rotary tiller and amend the soil with compost or humus before attempting to plant anything.

Remove as many rocks as possible, especially if you intend to grow root crops. If you can’t dig down at least a foot before hitting hardpan, try another site or build a raised bed. Filling raised beds with purchased soil may spare you the problem of dealing with a lot of weeds.

Adding organic matter such as compost or humus will enrich the soil like a slow-release fertilizer as soil microorganisms break it down further and make the nutrients available to plants’ roots.

It’s a good idea to test your soil’s pH level to see how acidic or alkaline it is. You can buy kits at most garden centers. Most vegetables and herbs grow best in a neutral pH of around 6.0 to 7.0. Acid soil will be less than 7.0; alkaline soil will be higher.

You can add lime to acid soil to ‘sweeten’ it. Add sulfur if the soil is too alkaline. Organic matter has a balancing effect on pH, so adding in plenty of compost or humus should solve any pH problems.

The soil in Desert Vegetable Gardens: Desert Soils Not Very Fertile

Almost all soils in the desert regions of North America (and elsewhere, for that matter) tend to be high in salt and alkaline, low in organic matter and fertility.

Organic Matter

Adding organic matter (compost, animal manure, green manure) greatly improves soil structure, adds nutrients to the soil, increases it’s water-holding capacity, and allows the soil to hold on to added nutrients long enough for the plants to take them in.

Livestock manure

Livestock manure - organic compost
Livestock manure – organic compost

Although high in salts (especially cattle manure), livestock manure is probably the easiest way to quickly add organic material to your soil. It already has active bacteria in it that will enhance nutrient breakdown, and that’s good for vegetables.

However, only apply fresh manure in the fall. That way, it will have time to break down in the soil.

Manure that has already been composted, or heat-treated manure can be laid down and mixed into the soil prior to planting in the spring. Additionally, the composting process will kill any weed seeds that may be present in fresh manure. Fresh manure, if applied in the spring, usually burns young plants.

Green manure

Green manure - Apple Seeds
Green manure – Apple Seeds

Green manure is any plant that can be grown and incorporated back into the soil as organic matter. Winter wheat, barley, oats, rye are some examples of green manure. If you want a green manure crop next winter, buy the seeds from any local farm feed store and scatter them around your garden in late summer or early fall. Simply rake the seeds into the ground around whatever vegetables are still around. The seed will sprout and start to grow.

At first frost next fall, pull out frost damaged vegetable plants and leave the green carpet there. It will develop fully in late fall. Give it a little taste of nitrogen fertilizer in early spring, then till or turn the green manure into the soil about a month before your plan to plant your garden.

Compost

Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners
Organic Gardening Guidelines for Beginners – Compost

Another really easy method of adding organic matter to your soil is putting down compost. Compost is usually made from leaves, grass clippings, food wastes, and garden vegetable waste (damaged fruits, old plants). Add one to two inches of well-decomposed compost over your soil and then till it in.

Many desert soils are highly alkaline. Alkalinity tends to inhibit plants’ intake of necessary nutrients from the soil (phosphorous, iron, zinc). Compost helps make those nutrients available.

Categories
Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips For The Winter Months

Fall is perhaps the prettiest time of the year for many gardeners when they can analysis the fruits of their summertime labors.

It is the time when the deciduous trees start to show their fiery colors when the last of the summer crops of vegetables are ripening on the vines and when the days are showing a marked shortening of light. Fall is also one of the busiest times of the year as it is time for all good gardens to be protected against the onset of winter.

Mulching with Hay

Mulching with Hay
Mulching with Hay

Mulching is probably one of the best tips for ensuring that the roots especially of young trees are not damaged by winter frosts. Whilst Lucerne hay is one of the best products to use, the astute gardener can also use old newspapers, grass clippings, in fact, most organic matter.

One of the most cost-effective measures to use in so far as mulching is concerned is the use of leaf matter. The fallen leaves are a lovely sight sprinkled about the garden, and when raked and piled about the plants and trees they become possibly the cheapest form of mulching available. But do ensure that the mulch does not go too close to the trunk of the tree or shrub. This can lead to collar rot – and could kill your plant or tree, not good.

Potting Frost Sensitive Plants

Potting Frost Sensitive Plants
Potting Frost Sensitive Plants

Frost is probably one of the biggest killers of many tender plants and trees. The best way to secure your plants from the harmful effects of a cold snap is to:

  • Mulch heavily
  • Either remove the plant to a pot or
  • Cover with hessian

Another tip for trees is to wrap the trunk with a thick layer of paper or hessian. This will go a long way to protecting the tree.

Plant out Your Winter and Spring Flowering Bulbs

Fall is the ideal time for planting out winter and spring-flowering bulbs. It’s great to plant them en-masse around and under trees and shrubs. They will lay dormant in the cool to cold earth, and amazingly will shoot up and flower when the time is right.

Cutting Back Old Growth

Fall is also the time when many plants will be needing a good cut back. By cutting and shaping the plant or tree it is setting the plant up ready for the new spring growth. Plants such as Lavender really love a good cutback, especially as the lovely perfumed flowers can be kept and dried for use in the home.

Water

Fall is the time when most gardens cease to require much watering. The hot summer months that saw the need for constant watering of the garden have gone and fall gardens do not need near as much watering, especially as the mulching will keep the roots moist should it happen to rain.

However, fall is a great time to identify areas in the garden that could do with a good drip-feeding system. The digging is not nearly such hot work when done in the Fall. The placement of the pipes and drip feeders will greatly assist the garden come the long hot summer months of the new season.

The best thing about preparing a fall garden for winter is the opportunity it gives the gardener to work outside, experience the delights of the season such as the sounds of the birds as they forage for berries on the trees and shrubs and the delights of walking amongst the plants and trees and know that you have done all that is possible to ensure that the garden will survive the onset of winter and the frosts that can do so much damage.

Gardening Tips For The Winter Months

January is full of horrid weather for plants. Sub-zero weather with lots of brutal winds, torrential rain, bitter ice, and snow. The garden lies dormant waiting to burst out at the first warm rays of spring sunshine. Here are a few tips to make sure your favorite plants survive this winter.

  • Do not use salt to clear snow and ice off paths bordered by plants because the salt that can run off and damage the plants. Just haul out the old shovel and get some fresh air and exercise.
  • Might want to make a note where your garden is retaining water and you might want to fix this once the weather eases up.
  • Take a daily walk around your flowerbeds and spot if there is any snow covering the plants. You may want to gently tap and scrape it away with a pole. Excess weight from the snow can break branches.
  • Try not to walk on snow-covered gardens. Plants and the edges of lawns can easily break.
  • This is a great time to get your equipment repaired, tune-up and blades sharpened.
  • As soon as weather allow be sure to spray your fruit trees to get rid of winter eggs from pests.
  • Be sure to cut down on watering the plants in the greenhouse. They are growing at as slower rate and need less water or the roots will rot.
  • Both plastic and clay pots should be covered. Plastic becomes brittle when cold and can break. Clay pots when frozen may crack.
  • Send away for seed and plant catalogs. Sketch out new borders or areas of the garden. Order the seeds.
  • If the water freezes, fish are prevented from getting oxygen. Do not try to crack the ice. This might cause shock waves and actually kill the fish. Instead, boil a pot of water and put it on top of the ice. You may need to do this a couple of times.
  • Make sure your compost has a meshed top or hinged lid to keep rats out who may be drawn to the kitchen scraps.
  • Birds are essential to all gardens getting rid of pests. Be sure to supplement their diet over the cold winter months.

A gardener will find no rest in the winter making plans for the new growing season. Plants still need to be cared for as not to suffer winter damage. It is a task gardener bare with love and much enjoyment all year through.

Categories
Gardening

Indoor Container Gardening for the spatially challenged

Some of us can’t afford to purchase homes even in this time of foreclosures and lower prices. Some of us have very little outdoor space, have bad soil or don’t have landlords hip to tilling up the yard.

Some of us just like watching plants grow and develop in our windowsills instead of outside, where weather and temperature can leave all our love of planting unrequited. We are the people who turn to indoor container gardening.

Indoor container gardening is a great way to grow small vegetables, herbs and other sundries in minimal space. If you’re good with plants and conscientious, you can do it in just a couple of windowsill-based square feet.

First, get or make yourself a small sprouting greenhouse. Ikea has them for around five bucks. If you don’t have an Ikea nearby, you can create one with a transparent glass or plastic container (I prefer searching in thrift stores, where the options are endless), or build a lidless box using small pine slats and nailing along polyurethane sheeting.

The construction isn’t really important. What is important is that the sprouting plants receive regular airflow, and that sunlight (and its warmth) permeates the container.

How to Organize Vegetable Seeds
How to Organize Vegetable Seeds

Next, choose your seeds. I find that dwarf tomatoes, basil, oregano and even some chilies work really well indoors. Read the instructions on the seed packet; some seeds require chafing or cutting to loosen the seed’s goodness from the husk, allowing it to sprout. Do what the seed packet tells you and you can’t go wrong in germinating at least most of your plants.

For sprouting, I like to use paper cups. Not only is this a good way to reuse items you might have around the house, it’s also very easy to peel away the cup when you need to transplant the seedlings – thereby saving the roots and keeping the young plant’s integrity.

Toss in some indoor potting soil and plant seeds to their suggested depth. Water voraciously. Put the cups under your makeshift greenhouse, stick the whole contraption in a sunny area, and wait.

In a couple weeks (depending on seedling), you should have a number of sprouts. If there’s more than one per pot, thin them out. Continue to water, and cycle out the air (if you’re using glass or plastic) at least twice a day so the plants don’t suffocate. If you want, talk to them. They seem to like that.

When the plants have five to seven leaves each (beyond the initial sprout leaves – which are usually shaped differently), transplant them to larger pots and free them from the greenhouse. Continue to water conscientiously, and watch as your indoor garden takes shape.

Categories
Gardening

November in the Spanish Garden

We recently wrote an article for the Mediterranean Gardening Society Magazine about the risks of gardening in Spain some of which many newcomers to Spain don’t expect.

Such as the many wet weeks experienced this September and October. Although we worked on the vegetable plot on Friday and Saturday this was only a two-day window as it’s raining again this morning and an early walk had to be canceled.

A pity as it’s a good chance to swap ideas with the local Spaniards. Luckily the longer-range forecast shows sunny weather within a week. By then there will be much to catch up on.

Ten essential tasks for November

Longer lists are included in each of our three books but if you do nothing else these must be done to keep the garden productive and healthy.

Spray fruit trees against pests that can still hatch out when the sun comes back and fungal problems. Preferable use of the eco sprays described in our fruit book.

Tip waterlogged containers on their side until the soil starts to dry out to ensure that roots don’t rot.

Sow replacement broad beans for the ones that rotted of last month and make the traditional All Souls plantings.

Sow peas, sweet peas and a late sowing of carrots and plant out more onions, leeks, lettuces, broccoli, and beetroots. Yes beetroots do well as plantlets especially as the seeds would have rotted off last month.

Trim back plants that have been bashed down by the rain but leave the main cutback until the new year to ensure Christmas colour.

Dig up Jerusalem artichokes for storage . Also the remains of your summer grown crops as they can rot in the sodden soil .

Prepare areas for planting more onions and garlic later in the month or early December.

Check the stored butternut squash and potatoes.

Living Well from Your Garden in Spain

Buy a spawn impregnated sack or box to grow healthy oyster or shitake mushrooms. The first crops will be ready for Christmas.

Get the sprouter out and grow healthy sprouting seeds in the kitchen without having to get wet or muddy.

When we attended the biennial Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin last week along with 8000 other people interested in the growing and eating of good food there was much interest in our books Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain and Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain by participants from many of the 150 countries represented not only for personal gardens but also for school garden teams and food communities in the developing countries struggling to combat the impacts of GM driven industrial agriculture.

Amazingly many had not heard of such basic good practices as feeding the soil and not the plants and mulching. But at least the use of Neem as an insecticide and soil improver was pretty universal.

With Christmas here next month Your Garden in Spain, Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain and Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain will be practical presents of lasting value. Available via a click on ‘Our books’, bookshops and Amazon.

Categories
Analysis Gardening

Luster Leaf Products 716750 1840 Ph Soil Meter | A Quick analysis

If you’re looking for an ultraportable pH meter, this one by Luster Leaf Products is an excellent choice. It uses a single probe to measure your soil’s pH. The interface is also easy to read. It can measure soil pH ranging from 3.5 to 9, which is a considerable range and can be a beneficial pick if you’re using it for plants that prefer alkaline soil.

This pH meter is quick to measure your soil and is best for outdoor use. It doesn’t use batteries or a standard power source, adding to its portability. As a bonus, it comes with a manual indicating the pH preferences and the watering needs of different plants you may be growing. For the size and simplicity of this meter, it’s a great on-the-go option for measuring your soil pH.

Categories
Analysis Gardening

HiLandy Soil pH Meter 3-in-1 Soil Tester | A Quick analysis

HiLandy Soil pH meter comes with dual electrodes to measure both the moisture and the pH of your soil. It measures soil pH from 3.5 to 8, meaning it can detect very acidic as well as more alkaline soil. It also measures light and displays the results in an easy-to-read interface.

Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Soil Test Kit For Moisture, Light & pH, A Must Have For Home And Garden, Lawn, Farm, Plants, Herbs & Gardening Tools, Indoor/Outdoors Plant Care Soil Tester (No Battery Needed)

The Soil pH meter doesn’t use batteries or a power cord, making it simple to set up and use. Just insert the electrodes in the ground (up to 6 inches) and wait for the needles to stop moving on the interface so you can read its light, moisture, and pH measurements. You can also use the meter for indoor soil. Its size of 8.25 inches by 1.74 inches makes it less cumbersome to use and store than some other pH meter options.

If you want other options, feel free to check out our Top 10 pH Soil tester article.

Categories
Analysis Gardening

Atree Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kits | A Quick analysis

When you’re looking for one of the most cost-effective pH meters for your soil, this is it. Atree Soil pH meter also measures light and moisture in addition to pH. It also comes in four color options, a feature you don’t often find in a pH meter, so you can choose from black, green, yellow, and purple, depending on which you like best.

Atree Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kits with Moisture,Light and PH Test for Garden, Farm, Lawn, Indoor & Outdoor (No Battery Needed)

It doesn’t use batteries and measures 10.2 inches by 2.4 inches, making it relatively easy to transport. Simply insert the probes (up to 6 inches) in the soil and wait approximately 10 minutes for the needles to stop moving. Once they’ve stopped, you’ll have your measurements. However, if you’re planning on gardening indoors, this meter may not be the best choice for you, as it’s unable to detect the light intensity of grow lights.

Categories
Gardening

Plants with February Flowers

Previously we talked about January Flowers so here is the next month. A little organization and planning will enable you to maintain flower color in the garden all year round. Here are some ideas to give you February flowers in your garden. Plants are fully hardy to -15C or USDA Zone 8, unless otherwise stated. Also, the soil can be naked through the winter and they will survive.

Specimen Tree with February Flowers:

Acacia dealbata
Acacia dealbata

Although Acacia dealbata (Mimosa) is only a half hardy tree (i.e. will withstand temperatures only to 0C or USDA Zone 10) it can be grown in a pot and over-wintered in a conservatory or shed. This beautiful tree is relatively fast-growing and is covered in fluffy yellow balls from January to April. Although it can grow to over 15m in its native Australia a pot-grown specimen will be much, much smaller.

Shrubs with February Flowers:

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ (Daphne) is a slow growing, upright shrub reaching a height and width of 4m x 1.5m. Deep purple berries appear after the tiny clusters of sweet-scented dark pink buds of January and February have faded.

The evergreen Daphne Aureomarginata is a small 1.5m x 1.5m evergreen shrub which bears sweet-scented pale pink flowers from December to March. Its variegated foliage of dark green leaves edged with yellow adds to this shrub’s charm.

A Climber with February Flowers:

Jasminium Nudiflorum
Jasminium Nudiflorum

Jasminium Nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) with its zingy yellow flowers clinging on to bright green stems is sure to provide some much-needed colorful cheer to any February garden. It is a vigorous climber and is equally at home scrambling freely over walls as it is climbing a trellis. It can reach a height and width of 3 x 3m but can be kept in check by pruning back to the stronger buds on the lower branches after flowering.

February Flowers:

Depending on whether spring arrives early you may be lucky and get the first few spring flowers in February. However, if not there are still some winter flowers that will flower in January and February, no matter what the weather. Iris Reticulata has a few varieties, and although only around 15cm high they will provide color with their beautiful blue and yellow-hued petals. ‘Alida’ is fully hardy and provides beautiful blue and yellow flowers amongst sword-shaped leaves.

This is a new introduction and still quite rare so a good buy for your garden if you do find it. ‘Katharine Hodgkin’, ‘Violet Beauty’ and ‘Harmony’ are other varieties worth considering.

For a cheery carpet of buttercup-colored flowers in February and March Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) can’t be beaten. Although very small in height, mass bulb planting will provide a beautiful carpet of yellow flowers surrounded by fresh green leaves in late winter. After the aconites have appeared you know spring is just around the corner.

Categories
Gardening Vegetables

Save Money on Asparagus in the Vegetable Garden

Thomas Jefferson Loved This 15-Year Producing Organic Crop

Asparagus is a very healthy food; in addition to folic acid, it provides plenty of potassium, fiber, thiamine, and the vitamins A, C, and B6. It’s also low in sodium, making it great for people with hypertension, or high blood pressure.

The History of Asparagus as a Food Source

Asparagus officinalis has been cultivated and enjoyed for thousands of years. According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, it was domesticated in 200 B.C. by the Macedonians. The Romans were so enamored of it that they dedicated a fleet to deliver it.

It’s thought that the British brought it to the colonies where it found a welcome home. Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being one of America’s greatest statesmen and author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was also an avid horticulturist and grew it in his Monticello gardens.

Why Grow it in the Garden Instead of Buying it at the Grocery Store?

  • Economics is the primary reason for most people. With the current economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money. This is one of the “expensive” items in the produce department. Randy Lemmon (GardenLine radio show, KTRH AM, Houston) has been mentioning this. There’s no sense growing the cheap stuff.
  • Buying the crowns to plant is a one-time issue. It’s not unheard of for an asparagus patch to produce a crop for up to 15 years! Not bad for a one-time investment.
  • It ensures reaping an organic food crop, if desired. The residential farmer regulates soil composition, the fertilization schedule, and garden pest control.

How to Set Up the Farm

It’s easy to plant in either a conventional or a raised bed vegetable garden. It’s a good idea to prepare the soil a good 2 weeks prior to planting to allow the soil to rest.

This plant likes sandy well-drained soil in full sun. It also prefers a high pH; the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board recommends 7.0. Adding lime to the soil will raise the numbers. Adding in some compost is a good soil amendment.

Buy the crowns at a reputable plant nursery; they won’t be found in Home Depot’s garden center. They need to be planted in trenches 8 to 10 inches deep. There should be a minimum of 4 feet between adjacent trenches.

Harvesting an Asparagus Crop

It’s not recommended to harvest the first year. Instead, the spears that emerge will turn into attractive fern-like plants, eventually developing red “berries”.

Spears may be taken the following season by either cutting or snapping just at or below the surface. The crowns will yield spears for an average of 2 months beginning each spring. Since they can be picked at intervals ranging from each day to every 5 days, a fresh supply is ready for the table almost continuously during the season.

When harvesting is done for the season, allow the ferns and berries to grow. This process “recharges” the crowns for the next year. Finally, when all the ferns have turned brown, cut them down and spread some compost on the garden