Saturday, April 21, 2012

Asparagus Rising

I spent late afternoon and early evening today planting vegetable seeds around the asparagus in two of my raised beds. Check out Mother Earth News' garden planner for the layout and for details of what I put where in my square foot gardens.

 I started some seeds indoors in peat pellets over a month ago, but for the first time I've been disappointed with the results. Many seeds never sprouted at all. And many of the seedlings died, even the hardy marigolds, and what is left won't be ready to plant outside for several more weeks.

It was so depressing I had to head outside to spend some quality time with my sage plants to cheer myself up. The sage, transplanted from my former home in North Carolina, is adjusting well and blooming beautifully:

 I'm not sure what went wrong with the peat pellets. In past years I have overwatered, causing fungus to grow on my seedlings. In an effort to avoid that, I may have underwatered my plants this year. Some of the seed may have been too old or gotten a little moist in storage somehow. I just don't know.

 On a more positive note, the asparagus I planted is doing great so far. The spears look so good, I have to remind myself they are off-limits for harvesting the first year. Check them out:

Mary Washington and Jersey Supreme Asparagus
Most of the purple passion is coming up more slowly, but it's coming:

Purple Passion

I have tried sowing some inoculated Dutch white clover around 8 squares of asparagus. I am hoping it will act as a ground cover and living mulch for the asparagus while it improves the soil with its nitrogen-fixing properties. I am torn between the fact that asparagus is a heavy feeder and the fact that it doesn't compete well with weeds. Then again, clover is great for feeding pollinators and attracting beneficials to the garden. So I decided to risk it with 8 squares, keeping the clover confined to the squares. I'll see how the clover-squares do vs. the bare squares and figure it out from there.

Update for May 1: I bought some dill, chives, leeks, and sweet pepper plants at Southern States this week, hardened them off a little, and transplanted them into some of the squares. I prefer to grow my own plants from seed because I worry about diseases unwittingly brought home with plants mass-produced for big box stores. But the few seedlings I have are small and iffy, and I just can' wait. I decided to skip the peas I was going to grow. Summers warm up around here so quickly, and peas are a cool-season plant. I will plant them for the fall or I will plant them late next January now that I have beds and soil in place.

The GOOD news is that most of the plants that seem to be surviving are varieties of tomatoes. They are small but most look like they'll live. HURRAY, tomatoes! I can almost taste them.

The "Little Tomato That Could" got roughed up, somehow, when Don brought it into the house to protect it from last week's cold weather. Sadly, some of its stems were broken. But it's still alive and it's still producing flowers and tomatoes. I spread some Solu-Lime around it and fertilized it with some diluted compost tea. I am already starting to worry about blossom end rot, which in my experience is more common and harder to treat in potted tomatoes. When the weather gets hot and dry, it is hard to maintain the consistent moisture that tomatoes need when they are confined in pots.

The asparagus is looking great, and the "purple passion" is catching up to the other strains in terms of size. We have been eating all the asparagus and strawberries we can handle from our CSA. It is so delicious, we can't wait to eat asparagus from our own back yard. Just two more years!

***Update for 5/23/12: I had to pull up my first "female" asparagus plant today. It was one of the purple passion plants. The standard advice is to pull up any plants that start to produce berries. These are female plants. The reason is that over time, they are less productive than the males, and the berries produce baby asparagus plants. The babies grow all over the place, like weeds, and have to be weeded by hand. If you let them grow, half of the babies are female, compounding the problem. This is one reason why the Jersey hybrids are more productive: they are mostly male. The upside to pulling up the "mama" plant was that there was a smaller spear growing up from the crown, so Don and I had a taste of our own asparagus before I tossed the plant in our compost pile. Purple Passion is definitely sweet and tender! We ate it raw.

***Update or 7/18/12: The asparagus has grown in so thick, it has smothered most of the clover for lack of light. I suspect this is just as well. The clover adds nitrogen to the soil, and if it's dead, it can't compete with the asparagus for water in the summer heat we are having. I was afraid the clover would take over my vegetable beds, but it never did.

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