When I first started my asparagus bed about 18 years ago I bought 1 year plants.
The two varieties were a delicious purple hybrid and also a green variety which I think was Mary Washington. Both seem to be favorites of most suppliers along with the hybrid, Jersey Knight .
I followed traditional planting advice.
What I’d Do Today
If I were just starting a first asparagus bed today I might still choose 1 year plants rather than seed. Mainly because I’d be anxious to harvest as soon as possible and starting with 1 year plants means harvesting a year sooner.
(The harvest from roots 3 years old can be light. Year 4 should give you a full harvest.)
If I were still growing for market, one of the varieties would definitely be the purple hybrid because they’re so sweet and folks love ’em. I’ve picked samples of green and purple asparagus for guests standing in the garden only to have them go home an order the plants for purple asparagus the next day!
The sweeter asparagus would have more appeal to most even though the most nutrition comes from open pollinated varieties.
The closest I’d come to conventional planting advice when starting a “first” asparagus bed would be to choose a site that I thought would still be suitable 20 to 30 to 40 years (or more) from now. That’s how long a good asparagus bed can last.
I’d consider a good site one that is rich in organic matter with continual additions each year, full sun, and a place they’ll be free from other roots encroaching on them. If you’ve followed my 3 keys to successful gardening, you probably already have a nice bed they’d love.
The Fall of the Old – The Rise of Another
You may recall my mentioning that my first and best asparagus bed has been in decline for the last decade because of “far-from-normal” invasive tree roots from the bordering property. All those trees were not there when we moved here and we had no idea they were lurking underground — ready grow when an opportunity presented itself. Which it did — in the form of new owner who allowed it to grow up.
Fortunately for me, nature has encouraged me over the past few years by scattering some of the seed from the female plants to different locations in and outside the garden. As a result I have several large plants that are doing beautifully and gave me most of the great looking asparagus I harvested last year.
Some folks take out the female plants (they produce the seed) early on because they say they’re not as productive as the male plants. Also they drop seed that may not be wanted. (When the ferns bloom and flower, you’ll know that’s a female plant.)
I couldn’t really tell you if that’s true (about their not being as productive) since I don’t really keep a count of how many spears I harvest from each plant.
A Variety of Interest
Looking through one of the catalogs the other night the asparagus selection caught my eye. In particular, I was drawn to an open pollinated variety named Connover’s Colossal.
Various suppliers give varying origins. But most seem in agreement that these bright green spears with deep purple tips are thick chunky spears that are tender, of “sublime” flavor, and produced in abundance.
One source called it an old American asparagus variety that has almost been lost.
Another says its a popular British variety from the 1800s.
A site based in Ireland (seedaholic.com) seemingly gave the most knowledgeable account of the variety’s origin. They stated:
“— developed by S. B. Conover, a produce commission merchant in New York’s old West Washington Market. It was introduced by the seedsman J. M. Thorburn & Company of New York in 1868, —“
They go on to say that an influential market gardener, Peter Henderson, impressed other market gardeners with the variety’s profitability in an article he wrote in an 1870 for an issue of American Agriculturist. He credited Connover’s Colossal with producing anywhere from 15 to 40 sprouts (per plant). Needless to say, its popularity soared.
For those of you who keep bees, you’ll be interested to know that this variety was recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society as an excellent attractant and nectar source for bees AND other beneficial insects. (I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t apply to ALL asparagus — in particular the open pollinated varieties.)
Starting from Seed
Asparagus is easy to start from seed. (I just ordered a package of Connover’s Colossal.)
You can start indoors in January or February under lights if you want.
I planted some asparagus in a jug bottom a week ago, taped up the jug, and put it outside to germinate whenever the seed feels the time is right.
Or, if you have a small spot in a garden bed you can set aside, plant the seed after danger of frost is past. Just let the plants grow all year. Next year, before growth starts, transplant to their permanent location.
Transplanting Asparagus Roots
I’ll never follow traditional advice for transplanting asparagus roots again, after seeing how wonderful the plants that nature planted for me looked and produced. They were just as wonderful as anything I put in my first asparagus bed that was done according to all the instructions the “experts” give.
When they’re ready for transplanting, I’ll pull back some mulch in the chosen spot and set plants about 4 to 8 inches deep depending on the size of the plant.
None of this business about covering with two inches of soil and then filling in the “deep” trench as they grow. That always did set me crazy. Things got too busy by that time in the season to even think about following through on that instruction. Fortunately the asparagus never minded.
But there are things that need to be considered before you decide on how deep you need to plant. I mentioned various things here.
(New gardeners/readers — please keep in mind that if your soil if deplete of organic matter and compacted you’ll have to improve it. You’ll find lots of details on this site. If you need help, email me.)
If you already have a nice asparagus bed and wouldn’t mind having a few more, why not think about starting a new variety from seed.
If you’re planting asparagus for the first time and want to use 1 year roots to speed things up, you might want to reconsider following traditional/conventional advice about how to plant and save yourself lots of time in the process.
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I do some vegetable container gardening in 5 gallon buckets – have used a mixture of Miracle grow , peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. After reading your statements about Miracle Grow, will no longer use it. What should I use to replace it in my mix? Enjoy your posts, thank you for all of your information. Mary Ellen Green
Theresa, enjoy your blog and I garden just like you for the last 4 years, but my inspiration to use this method came from Ruth Stout. I also have some “Taylor” garlic growing that I heard about here!
But my real question is where did you find the colossal seeds? The only sources I found were in the U.K. and Australia?
Thanks and keep writing!
Hi Mary Ellen,
Since organic has become so popular, there are many organic fertilizers you could use for pots (or in your case buckets).
When I grow in grow bags I use my garden soil.
When I grow in pots — which is seldom — I use a mix of my cold compost, peat moss, and maybe some vermiculite and/or perlite.
You might also want to keep some Neptune’s Harvest Fish Seaweed Blend on hand. (It hydrolyzed and that’s the kind you want.) It has the micro and macro nutrients that your plants in containers might not have access to.
A quick search for organic fertilizers took me to a site called growitnaturally.com which offers a full line of Organic products. But I’m sure there are many more.
Or you could just add a good compost to your mix.
I’d be very interested in learning what you decide on and the results you get. I think you’ll have good success.
Gene, I’m sure Ruth Stout would be very pleased that she influenced you!
Glad to hear your Taylor garlic is growing. I can hardly wait for harvest!
I got my Connover’s Colossal seed from anniesheirloomseeds.com. Other places are bountifulgardens.org and edenseeds.com but I’m sure a google search will reveal others as well.
Thanks for taking time to comment Gene and share your thoughts!
I am remodeling my garden area and with much enthusiasm went out last weekend to dig up my 2 asparagus beds to transplant in pots until I got the garden renovation done. To my horror and surprise, I was completely unable to dig enough up to put in pots. It has taken me 6 years to get these plants going to good production. And yes, they are a very favorite of the bees. Bumble bees and honeybees alike.
Sadly it looks as though I will be starting all over again. I will look for Colossal. It is so good to read your articles.
Oh, and by the way, your wonderful reader Jack, passed on some Mako onion seed and it is growing wonderfully. I am so excited to raise them to production.
I am in the UK and have a patch of Connover’s Colossal that I started this spring from root crowns I bought. They are very vigorous – they even started growing before I even planted them, because I was late doing that and had to store them in a bucket with some soil on top. They started growing their first spears jumbled up together in the bucket of soil.
They have done amazingly well – every single one came up, and I got an extra plant because one I accidentally broke one crown in two while planting. I planted as if they were individual crowns and each came up as a new plant.
A couple of the plants are female and are now covered in seeds. I want to keep some for myself, but there are hundreds, more than I could ever need. I’d be happy to send some to anyone who would like them, you would just need to cover the cost of the envelope and stamps.
Thanks for your thoughtfulness Claire.
Do you happen to know how much it would cost to send from the UK to the US?
No more than a few dollars…a stamp to send up to 20g to the US (the weight of a greetings card and envelope) costs the equivalent of about $3. Up to 100g costs about $4.50.
I didn’t see this comment until just now and don’t have many left from this year, having gifted most of them – the birds ate a lot of the red berries so I had less than I expected! – but I could send a few, or you could wait til next year when I will have more. I did a trial planting of 18 seeds about 3 weeks ago – using a small cell tray inside a clear plastic bag inside, and I now have 12 seedlings living outside on the windowsill. Frost is rare in London, it hasn’t been down to freezing yet at night here, but I will take the tray inside on cold nights. I am planning on planting the seedlings outside in the spring.
Thanks for your offer Claire. I asked about the postage in case another reader might want to take you up on your offer. I’m not able to plant more asparagus right now because of some invasive root problems. Thanks for your offer though. It’s much appreciated.
Sounds like you’ve got some great asparagus beds.