Asparagus from seeds
October 19, 2012 4:02 PM   Subscribe

As a novice gardening is it crazy for me to try to grow asparagus from seeds?

I've been experimenting in my backyard in San Francisco for the two years we've been there though I don't have a lot of gardening experience prior to this. I was at a seed bank last week and picked up some Mary Washington seeds and now in reading about growing them, I'm somewhat daunted.

I can deal with the idea that I won't have spears for probably three years if I start the seeds now but all the articles I read (Golden Gate Gardening, Sunset's Western Gardening Guide) make the whole process seem so complicated and difficult: seeds sprouted and then grown in one place for a year (?) and then moved to a permanent bed, elaborate soil and bed preparation, complicated fertilization and propagation schemes, keeping the soil moist at all times...does it really have to be this complicated? What are the basic basics that are required to be successful? Do they need to be watered every day?

I'm intrigued by the idea of a perennial vegetable, but this project is appearing more and more overwhelming at every turn!

As mentioned, I'd be growing them in my backyard, probably not in raised beds and I'm in San Francisco.

(I also recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and the section on her asparagus beds was very inspiring!)
posted by otherwordlyglow to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not crazy. Think of it this way: if it works, you get super awesome asparagus. If it doesn't work, you got to spend time playing in the dirt.

Home grown asparagus is one of the most sublime tastes. So I say go for it.
posted by bilabial at 4:05 PM on October 19, 2012

Do you want to grow asparagus or do you want to grow asparagus from seed? Because I would just buy crowns if the "from seed" wasn't too important.
posted by JPD at 4:15 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Picking up on JPD I put crowns in 2.5 years ago and have neglected them in my backyard garden ever since. They're doing great and I'm ready for my first real harvest next year. So if it is easy you are after, go with crowns. You can order them online and they aren't expensive.

Having said that - I've never tried seed. I got too scared reading the same sorts of things you did. Maybe someone will happen along in a minute to say how easy it is.
posted by Cuke at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2012

Growing from seed requires protection from pests. I am not sure what your conditions are like in San Fran but if you have slugs you will need to engage in a preemptive war to let the seedlings survive.
posted by srboisvert at 4:40 PM on October 19, 2012

I've only ever used crowns, but spending the time to grow from seed is supposed to give you more robust plants with a longer lifespan, and you can ID and thin out the females during the first year. You're probably looking at 3-4 years before you can harvest with gusto. But, once a bed is established and strong, it can last for 25+ years.

I think that the seedlings need some babying during the first year, but after that, I'd take the fussy instructions with a huge grain of salt.
posted by quince at 4:48 PM on October 19, 2012

I would do crowns solely because I want asparagus as soon as humanly and asparagusly possible.
posted by elizardbits at 4:50 PM on October 19, 2012

I planted crowns in April. Beforehand, I prepared the bed with tons of compost and some sand. Other than that all I've done is water and do some (very) occasional weeding. Over the past 8 months, they have grown from tiny shoots to green monsters as tall as I am. Like, they've literally just gone nuts. Already sending up shoots bigger than my fingers.

I haven't harvested any for eatin' yet, but I plan to do so in the spring, and I believe I can accurately project deliciousness.

So, if you want a complicated project to keep you busy outside, maybe seeds would provide an interesting challenge, but I think if you're looking to get maximum enjoyment from your gardening, you should go with crowns. Gardening is harder than it looks -- a lot of my stuff has failed for the past two years -- and it's so rewarding to have something that just takes off on its own.
posted by crackingdes at 4:59 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Put some artichokes in, too.
posted by notyou at 5:16 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't say I'm successful yet, because it's only year one... But I planted a large bed from seed (Mary Washington from Bakers Creek) this year and so far they are doing great. Started them in trays, transplanted into a bed I double dug and added lots of organic material and compost. Kept them watered like any veggie, nothing crazy. They are about 3 feet tall now and looking good. Hoping for some deliciousness in a few years! I'd say go for it. Or a bed of crowns and a bed from seed. I'm definitely doing more next year.
posted by meta87 at 6:35 PM on October 19, 2012

Response by poster: Already have artichokes and am planning more! I think I like the idea of growing from seed and have heard about the plants grown from seed to be stronger.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best reason to plant with seed is you have access to the best varieties. If you go to your nurseries, you're going to get Mary Washington crowns (open pollinated seed). If you buy crowns on line, you can find some different varieties, but I haven't seen any UC157F1 for home gardeners. This variety is the #1 variety in the world due to it's adaptability to a variety of climates and it's what I'd recommend to home gardeners in California. Also, the purple variety Sweet Purple, is hard to find as a root but easy to find seeds.
Get your seeds and plant them into seedling trays in January. A window sill, plastic cold frame or greenhouse will all work. Transplant them into your garden in April.
The biggest reason that home garden asparagus growers fail is that when it is time to start cutting, they're not thinking of the vegetable garden. It's still early in the season and your average gardener is still trying to get in that last ski run and not thinking of the garden
If you go out to your garden in April for the first visit of the year, you're too late. You need to start cutting asparagus when the spears are 8-10 inches high. If you let them get up to 20 inches or higher, you are going to hurt/kill the underground crown.
Other than that, grow them like tomato. VERY EASY and rewarding. Watering and fertilizer could be on the same schedule as your tomato plants for the first year. Like tomatoes, make sure your soil is well drained. And later on when you are cutting all the spears that come up, keep in mind those plants are not using much water at all, so don't overwater during spear harvest.
You can harvest next year for a couple of weeks if you did a good job this year. Then in 2014 you can harvest for 4-5 weeks, then after than cut for 6-10 weeks depending on how strong your plants are. Cutter Asparagus Seed
posted by cutter at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2012

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