If there were a championship belt for the most durable vegetable Asparagus would win the title hands down! Vegetables are generally annual plants but Asparagus is an exception. This perennial can last up to 20 years and even longer if they are planted in an ideal location and given the proper care that they require. The plant is grown for the shoots that emerge as temperatures warm in the latter part of spring and early summer. If these shoots aren’t harvested the plant becomes bushy and develops fern-like foliage which takes on a golden-yellow hue in the fall.
Asparagus prefers rich soil that drains well and a predominantly sunny location. If you opt to include it in your vegetable garden make sure to give it a lot of room as you don’t want to disturb the roots when you plant your other vegetables during the year. Some gardeners give Asparagus its own home to avoid this issue as well as its need for such fertile soil. The more TLC that you give Asparagus the longer-lived and more productive they will be.
Growing Asparagus is a practice in patience. You can start it from seed or purchase 1 to 2-year-old roots. The roots need to be at least 3 years old before you can start harvesting the shoots. The first few years the shoots are pencil thin and they only develop thicker shoots if they are not picked during the first few years. If you decide to plant roots you should soak them overnight so they can absorb water more efficiently. You can dig a trench about 12 inches wide and 15 inches deep. Space your rows about 4 feet wide. This loosens the soil which is beneficial to the roots you will be planting. You can then fill the trench with the excavated soil until the trench is half full. Place the roots about 18 inches apart and cover them with about 2 inches of soil. As the roots grown during the season you will cover them until all of the soil is back in the trench.
During the first year, it is important to keep watering the roots and as you add soil back in the trench make sure that the water is penetrating down to the roots. You can do this by inserting your index finger into the soil to make sure it feels moist and cool. A good mulch can be applied once all of the soil is back in the trench to help maintain even moisture levels and keep weeds down. Allow any foliage that grows during the season to die back in the fall so that the roots store energy for next year.
When you finally reach year 3 and can start harvesting the shoots you should only pick them for 2 weeks. Each year you can add a week until year 6 when you can then start harvesting for a full 4 to 6 week period. You should only harvest shoots that are thicker than a pencil and cut them at the soil line once they are 6 to 8 inches in height. Some people will tell you that white Asparagus is even more delicious than green Asparagus. Once your patch is 4 years old you can pile 8 to 10 inches of soil on the bed in the early spring and this will shield the emerging roots from sunlight preventing them from turning green.
Finally, Asparagus does not store well and should be eaten within 1 to 2 days of harvesting. They can be steamed, boiled or even grilled and while many people enjoy it with sauce or drizzled with olive oil they can also be enjoyed plain as well. All I can tell you is that they are worth the wait!