2 acre farm: Asparagus 2011

2 acre farm

The experiences, trials, and lives on a small farm in rural Illinois.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Asparagus 2011

This post is here to stomp out the myth that asparagus must be started from crowns and even more importantly, stomp out the myth that asparagus takes three years to get a harvest.

A little over a year ago I began searching the internet for an affordable way to start an asparagus patch... not only was I quickly discouraged by the high asparagus crown prices but also the fact that it would take 3+ years before I would ever see a return on my investment.  What about seed?  Finally, through various obscure and vague sources, I discovered yes, there are people who start asparagus from seed (although very few). I also found out then when properly done you can actually get full size spears and a full harvest in year two. This post is to let you know that it does work and to tell you exactly how I was able to do this.

First you should know that crowns are grown from seed in a field. They are then dug up in the fall, stored, overpriced, and shipped to you, to plant. Yes, all asparagus is started from seed even the all male hybrids. Asparagus is never propagated vegetatively for sale of crowns. It is a slow and inefficient process.
The first picking of early birds. A full harvest is soon to
come if this cold snap doesn't burn the tips... fingers crossed.

So, how did I go from seed to spear in only 1 year?   The whole process is quite simple. You must start the asparagus very early, I started mine the first week of February in 2010. I grew it out under lights until about the end of March. I then moved it to the cold frames where it sat dormant until late April. Toward the end of April I planted it out in a bed I had already prepared with about four inches of compost tilled in and all weeds destroyed. Starting early in the year does a very important thing, it lets the asparagus go through a vernalization period in the cold frames. Vernalization is a fancy way of saying the asparagus thinks it has already survived a winter, so technically the asparagus is two years old at only two and a half months. It is the exact same process I am going to attempt on artichokes this Spring to make them produce buds for me in Illinois.

Once the asparagus was planted it quickly began to grow new growth as if it were two years old. Instead of 10-12 inch fronds at the end of summer mine were 3-4 feet tall. I also side dressed with more compost around the first week of June. I figured the side dressing might be beneficial during the last few weeks of growth.

Asparagus crowns are currently selling for $1.50 - $3.00 a piece. I wound up with over 100 plants in my bed from a seed packet that cost around $3.00.



Blogger David P. Offutt - The Gastronomic Gardener said...

Great Tip, I can't wait to see how the 'chokes do!

March 24, 2011 at 6:18 AM  
Anonymous Rhonda said...

Thanks for unmasking and stamping out the Asparagus myth! It's one that is propagated (garden humor) by darn near everyone! Even though I have a patch, now I feel the need to plant some seed and try your method. Can't wait to see how yours does for you this year :)

March 24, 2011 at 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Summersweet Farm said...

Boo hoo, I wish I'd read this a year ago! I just saw the first tiny asparagus shoots coming up this year... and I can't touch 'em yet because I planted from crowns. Sob! Well, I'll be sure to take your advice when I expand my asparagus patch though!

March 24, 2011 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I have a theory you could do a similar process over summer and use a basement for vernalization. This would give an opportunity for a longer growing out period and would require larger pots 4"-6". If the basement worked though I would expect equally good results. Possibly better.

March 24, 2011 at 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Beth Davis said...

Where can I purchase your Zesty Sweet Relish? The folks at Township Grocer in Edwardsville said they aren't carrying any longer. I have all of these hard-boiled eggs and none of your amazing relish with which to make egg salad! Help!

March 26, 2011 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Hi Beth,

I tried to find your contact information off your blog but didn't see any. Send me an e-mail at 2acfarm@gmail.com

I'll figure something out for ya.

March 26, 2011 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Toyin O. said...

Very informative, thanks for sharing:)

March 31, 2011 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Casa Mariposa said...

How awesome that you reaped so much for so little!! :o)

April 8, 2011 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Lundeen Literary said...

Wow, Thank you! I won't be doing asparagus until we get our permanent home, but this will be valuable info for me in about 8 months...

Can I ask why you used a cold frame? I'm in Atlanta, and our winters are so very frequently mild that I'm wondering if I need to use a cold frame.

Our last frost date is just about 100% April 15th, but some of the time, the latest is March 15th. There was a point in late Feb here that saw us at 75 degrees, and it was 80 today. Maybe I would have to start my vernalization earlier? Start seed and have them cold-frame ready by Jan 1 instead of putting them out in March. Nothing would get cold enough here to trick the asparagus into thinking it's winter if I put it out that late.


April 10, 2011 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Thanks for all the comments!


I use the cold frames to keep the pots from freezing solid since they are above ground. This is possibly not necessary in your mild winter. Since your last day of frost is two weeks before mine I would move all my dates by at least two weeks. A full month wouldn't be a bad idea. With your mild winters you may need different timing altogether. You may time it so that vernalization occurs around winter solstice which would help insure that vernalization occurs. I have never gardened in a climate like yours so I am only guessing. Good luck!

April 11, 2011 at 10:34 PM  
Anonymous Ecological gardening said...

So now I know what I'll be doing next February. Now about rhubarb taking three years--got any answers for that?

April 25, 2011 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I have some rhubarb started from seed and growing in pots as I type this. The problem with rhubarb is that it is not very genetically stable. So when it is started from seed not all plants may be true to type. Which means if this is of concern you would have to cull out the ones that don't live up to the varieties description. I am not sure how well vernalization would work on rhubarb. I suppose it would. To me rhubarb is a minor crop so it isn't worth the effort. Let me know if you try it though I would be interested.

April 25, 2011 at 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Ecological Gardening said...

What I did was transplant some divisions in early spring: went through the whole dig-a-two-foot-deep hole, put in composted cow manure and soil, plant the divisions and wait three years routine: so the garden book directions said. This is the third year. So far they look better grown than the first two years, and I will harvest. Apparently the roots have to establish. So I don't know if you can hurry that up.

The not genetically stable part is interesting. Didn't know that.

April 26, 2011 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger Tango Joe said...

Wow! I am very happy to read this post. We have a rather small garden area which we dole out space for this and that and have wanted to dedicate a portion to asparagus but never did because of all the discouraging info out there.
Looks like asparagus will be making an appearance in our garden after all!
Thanks for posting.

June 2, 2011 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger JudithBMe said...

Nathan, I'm curious in what part of southern IL you're located. We built a home three years ago outside of Coulterville (near Sparta) and are in our second year of gardening at this location. Starting everything from scratch.

I just found your blog and am really enjoying it.

Judi McCann

June 23, 2011 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

We are not in southern Illinois but central/SW Illinois. Halfway between ST. Louis and Springfield. Good luck with your new garden. Work hard to stay ahead of the weeds the first few years and don't let them seed. Its worth the extra effort in the end.

June 23, 2011 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger BePartial said...

Awesome! Another way to bypass the middleman and get it done. I can't wait to pass this along. Thank you.

June 24, 2011 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Very nice!

June 24, 2011 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I am inspired! gotta give it a go!

July 8, 2011 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger John Quimby said...

Great tip! Thank you for sharing it. We'll try your idea on our small farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada! Glad I followed one of my blog readers links to find you!

July 16, 2011 at 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Tammi said...

What an awesome post! I've put off growing asparagus for two seasons now because of the cost of crowns and the three-year wait to see anything from it. I finally broke down and ordered seeds, figuring what the heck - I'll have some asparagus...someday...
So, what I'm wondering is, do you think the seeds would work if I start them in my greenhouse over the winter. We keep the greenhouse at 50-60 degrees. Do you think the asparagus would think it had survived a winter already and put out in the second year?
Thanks for sharing this! Now I can't wait to be able to get it in the ground!

September 13, 2011 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Nathan (2af) said...


I think you will need colder temps to insure vernalization. At 50-60 degrees I would expect the asparagus to continue growing. You will want to get it outside for a few weeks to make sure it goes dormant before spring comes.


September 14, 2011 at 12:43 PM  

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