Introduction to Growing Organic Asparagus in Containers
The scientific name of Asparagus is Asparagus officinalis and its young shoots are used as a spring vegetable. Asparagus is a perennial plant, growing up to a meter tall. Organic Asparagus is produced using pest management and fertilization methods that do not include any synthetic compounds. In this article we also discuss the below topics;
- How long does Asparagus take to grow
- Asparagus growing tips
- How do you grow organic Asparagus
- What is the best organic fertilizer for Asparagus
- What is the best mulch for Asparagus
- Caring for Asparagus in Containers
- Why is my Asparagus dying
- How often do you water Asparagus
- Can you grow Asparagus in a container
A Step by Step Guide to Growing Organic Asparagus in Containers
Asparagus loves sunlight but can survive some shade. It should have at least 8 hours a day of sunlight. Asparagus also likes cool weather the best. It will tend to bolt if it gets too warm too quickly in the spring. The ideal temperature level for growing Asparagus from 15 to 18°C.
Preparing the Organic Soil for Growing Asparagus
The ideal pH for soil that Asparagus is growing it is 6.5 to 7.5. Asparagus will not grow in soils with a pH level of less than 6.0. Asparagus loves nitrogen. Some good sources of organic nitrogen are composted manure like chicken manure and bone meal (add 10 to 20 lbs. per 100 square feet). Because the Asparagus plant needs to develop a strong root system, it needs significant amounts of phosphorus. Good sources for organic phosphorus are bone meal or compost. Asparagus also likes a good supply of potassium. Compost, wood ash (particularly hardwood), and granite dust are organic sources of potassium.
To grow Asparagus as a perennial, it’s important to plant from seed in loose soil. Asparagus loves sandy well-drained soil. Combine a 50/50 mix of sand and compost to prepare the perfect soil for growing Asparagus. You should amend and thoroughly fertilize soil once before planting. Amending and fertilizing every year would involve disrupting the crown and roots of the plant and is not recommended. To properly establish the deep root system needed for it to produce a harvest year after year, till the soil a foot deep. This way, the soil can insulate the plant through frost and winter. pH should be neutral ( between 6.5-7.5)
Asparagus must be planted in soil that is deep with organic matter. Plants must be 12 to 18 inches apart in rows that are 3 feet apart. Plant the potted plants at ground level and not in a trench-like you would a bare root crown. Asparagus plants will spread horizontally along the ground as the years go by. If you plant them too close together they will crowd each other out. Asparagus requires 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.
Choosing a Container for Growing Asparagus
Use as large a container as possible and at least 30 gallons in size. The container can be made of terra cotta, wood, or plastic as long as it has adequate drainage holes. A large plastic tote can be used by drilling about 20 ¼ inch holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.
Asparagus Seed Germination
Asparagus seeds are good for up to 3 years after you’ve initially purchased them. To get your Asparagus seeds to germinate more quickly for planting indoors, pre-soak them in water or a compost tea (compost mixed with water). Once you’ve soaked your seeds, plant them immediately in individual pots. The best soil temperature for seed germination is about 21 to 25°C. They should come up in about 10 to 12 days at this temperature.
Conditions for Growing Organic Asparagus in Containers
- Make sure the container is at least 18 inches deep and the container must have drainage holes. Otherwise, drill some drainage holes at the bottom of the container to ensure good drainage.
- For best results, use a plastic pot instead of a clay pot, as plastic pots do not absorb as much moisture, plus it is easier to make drainage holes.
- If there is too much moisture, the Asparagus plant could contract a fungal disease.
- Add about 2 inches of gravel to the bottom of the container. The gravel helps the Asparagus from getting too much moisture and thus preventing rot and disease.
- Partially fill the container with a garden-mix soil.
- Dig a hole in the center of the soil to a depth of about 8 inches and about 3 times the width of an Asparagus crown. Then, this will give plenty of space for the root system to spread out.
- Place a spoonful of aged compost in the center of the hole.
- Now place the Asparagus’ roots in the hole and spread them out with your hands.
- Cover the crown with 2 inches of soil and keep the soil moist as the Asparagus crown grows.
- Water the Asparagus immediately after planting.
- Once shoots start appearing on the crown, gradually cover them with soil, leaving about half an inch of the shoots uncovered.
- Continue covering the shoots each week until they reach the top of the soil.
- You should get 6-12 shoots from each Asparagus crown, depending on the variety you’ve planted.
Growing Organic Asparagus from Seed Indoors
Step 1) Asparagus grown from seed are less susceptible to transplant shock than those started from crowns. Also, an Asparagus started from seed will be more productive throughout its life than a plant started from a crown.
Step 2) Sow seed about 8 to 10 weeks before you plan to set transplants in the garden.
Step 3) Soak seed in compost tea for 5 to 10 minutes before planting, and this will help reduce disease problems.
Step 4) Sow seed about 1½ inch deep in a seed-starting mix or light potting soil. Sow seeds in individual containers.
Step 5) Seeds will germinate in 7 to 21 days at 23°C. Place seedlings in a cold frame, plastic tunnel, or greenhouse to grow on until outdoor temperature levels are warm enough for transplanting. The optimal growing temperature is 15 to 21°C.
Step 6) Seedlings are ready to transplant when they are 10 to 12 weeks old and all danger of frost in your area has passed. Space the transplants 18 inches apart in rows set 3-6 inches apart. If you want thinner spears, space the transplants 8-10 inches apart, with the plant set 4 inches deep. If you like thicker spears, plant them about 12-14 inches apart and set 6-8 inches deep. Consider planting your new Asparagus babies near your tomatoes.
Step 7) Fertilize in the spring with 1-2 cups of complete organic fertilizer per 10 feet of row and dig in gently. Remember, don’t harvest the plant until its third year; allow the plant to set ferns and redirect its energy back into the plant. Cut the ferns down to 2 inches tall in the late fall. In the plant’s third year, you can begin regularly harvesting the spears. The season usually lasts around 8-12 weeks. Cut the Asparagus spears 1-2 inches below the ground, and at least 2 inches above the crown using a sharp knife or Asparagus harvesting tool.
How to Mulch and Water Your Asparagus
After removing any visible weeds, apply mulch to smother any remaining weeds, which compete with the young spears and reduce crop yields. Water regularly during the first two years after planting. Fertilize in spring and fall by top-dressing with a liquid fertilizer like compost tea or side-dressing with a balanced fertilizer. Leave winter-killed foliage, along with straw or light mulch, on the bed to provide winter protection.
Organic Fertilizer for Growing Asparagus
Asparagus grows the best when organic fertilizer is applied to the soil. The fertilizer must have high levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Then, this can be done through homemade compost through organic material. Giving your Asparagus just the regular doses of nitrogen and potassium is great for certain periods of its growth, but it will need other trace elements found in organic compost material.
Organic material such as fish, seaweed, kitchen scraps like bread, dairy, and even fruits and other vegetables will provide a rich bounty of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins to help the plant grow successfully. This is much better than purchasing the other types of store-bought fertilizers.
Asparagus prefers a nitrogen-rich soil, but also need adequate amounts of phosphorus for good root development. Because Asparagus is a perennial plant, this means they have an aggressive root system that moves quickly throughout the soil to establish itself before winter. Phosphorus is responsible for root development. Asparagus is the young shoots of the Asparagus fern, and this requires Nitrogen to promote green growth. Plants must be fertilized 2 times per year, once in spring to pull the plant out of dormancy, and once in the fall before the plant goes dormant to establish the roots before winter.
Organic Pest and Disease Control in Growing Asparagus
- Insect pests include Asparagus beetles, Japanese beetles, aphids, and cutworms. Organic insect management strategies include sanitation, controlling nearby vegetation, natural predators or parasites, insecticidal soap, and organic insecticides.
- Another important challenge for organic Asparagus growers is weed control. Pre-planting strategies include selecting sites with low weed pressure, tillage, and the use of smother crops. Cultivation and mowing are methods of reducing weed problems after planting; care should be taken to not damage crowns with equipment. Living mulch between rows provides an alternative technique for weed management.
- Cutworms can attack young spears. Ensuring that your soil has a healthy population of beneficial nematodes can eliminate any cutworm pupae, and using bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) will kill any that have emerged to feast on plants. Be sure to use floating row covers to keep the moths away, too.
- The asparagus miner is another threat to your plants. The larvae of this little black fly will eat trenches along the sides of shoots. It’s a potential disease-spreader, as it has been known to carry fusarium spores. Trim off and dispose of any fronds which have signs of damage. Remove plant stalks when overwintering to prevent outbreaks.
- Finally, two common pests can suck the life out of your plants are aphids and thrips. Both of these can be eliminated with a coating of neem oil on your plants. Be sure to get not only the spears but any leafy material on both the tops and bottoms of the fronds.
- Asparagus rust is a fungus disease. It is most prevalent in humid regions. Spear tops turn yellow and brown and then die back. Plant resistant varieties. Cut down diseased fern at the crown and destroy them.
- Spider mites suck plant juices causing stippling. Spray with water or use insecticidal soap or rotenone.
- Asparagus beetles are the most prevalent problem. Good sanitation and allowing can help reduce the buildup of these pests. This is control by handpicking; spray or dust seriously infested Asparagus plants with insecticidal soap.
- Fusarium wilt, purple spot, needle blight, and Asparagus rust can all infect your Asparagus. If these diseases are known to be an issue in your growing region, planting resistant cultivars are essential.
When and How to Harvest Asparagus
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Do not harvest the first couple of seasons. If you have young plants, the season lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Though, established plants produce longer up to 8 weeks. Check your Asparagus plant every other day for harvest-ready spears. Spears grow quickly and become too woody. Once an Asparagus spear starts to open and have foliage, it’s too tough for eating.
Harvest spears when they reach 8 to 10 inches in height and between ½ and ¾ inch thick. (Bear in mind that younger, thinner spears will be tender, so harvest according to your taste.) To harvest Asparagus, simply cut the spears with a sharp knife or scissors at ground level. Stop harvesting spears when the diameter of the spears decreases to the pencil size. After harvest, fertilize your Asparagus in early summer. You can top-dress with a balanced organic fertilizer, or scatter another inch of rich, weed-free compost over the decomposing mulch.
Do not cut down the ferns or you will ruin your Asparagus bed. Allow the ferns to grow and mature; this replenishes the nutrients for next year’s spear production. Always leave one or two spears. Only back Asparagus ferns after the foliage has died back and turned brown or yellow. This is usually in early winter after several hard freezes. Cut the ferns back to the ground. Fertilize the bed with a 1-inch layer of rich, weed-free compost or manure topped with 3 inches of straw, rotted sawdust, or weed-free mulch. Clean spears will push up through the mulch in spring.
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