Most people with some place for a garden are going to plant tomatoes. But there are a lot of good reasons to leave some space for asparagus if you like it. It’s a perennial, once established, it’s very nutritious, and it’s very cheap to grow from seeds.
It is also very easy to grow from seed. More and more growers are doing that. And one of the best varieties to grow is an heirloom called Mary Washington.
Now, you’re going to look at most of the seed catalogs out there and you won’t find asparagus seeds. Just as you are not likely to find potato seeds. No, I don’t mean seed potatoes, which sell for outrageous prices in most catalogs. I mean seeds. Of course seeds will take longer, but in the case of asparagus, when you are talking about a crop that will produce for FORTY years, what’s an extra year? Properly grown you will get very large plants the first year, and you can start picking the next.
There are a few simple rules to follow when growing asparagus. Put the seeds in trays of good soil mixture (any will do, including potting soil, or sphagnum moss mixtures). Germination is rather long, but the high germination rates of Mary Washington will reward you. You don’t need to buy fancy trays with sections. Any pots will do. The plastic 6-cells or 12-cells are nice in that they make transplanting much easier. I have a great many of them and you might find a nursery that would give you their used ones. Just soak in a little bleach water and dry before adding the potting soil.
The most important consideration about growing asparagus is that the soil be loose, high in organic matter and deep. Never plant asparagus in hard, clay soils. Replace the soil if you need to. Compost what you can from the garden. Use raised beds (I grow everything in raised beds) and if you need free mulch the Leesburg Landfill has all that you can haul away. Collect your neighbors leaves, etc. A bale of sphagnum peat moss on sale is all you will need if you have really hard soils. You can trench the asparagus but frankly I find raised beds are easier and work better. Since I’m organic I use lime and organic phosphates to fertilize, if I fertilize at all. We also have a fireplace so I use the wood ashes.
You are probably not going to find Mary Washington asparagus listed in most catalogs. That is because there has been a big push to promote much more expensive hybrids. But I am looking at the long term, consistency, and flavor. Jersey Giants and all the other kinds of hybrids are promoted because of yields. What they don’t tell you is that yields from hybrids begin to drop dramatically after three or four years. And you have already done all the work to establish them for the next twenty years (if that, as they do not have the staying power of the heirlooms) why not plant a variety that will give you much more in the long run?
Here’s a source for seeds that I’ve used which may be helpful in your efforts to find seeds: Neseed Good folks and great seeds!