Companion planting with asparagus

Contents

Asparagus Companion Plants – What Grows Well With Asparagus

If you want a bumper crop of asparagus perhaps you should consider planting asparagus companion plants. Asparagus plant companions are plants that have a symbiotic relationship, one that is mutually beneficial to each. In the following article, we will discuss the benefits of companion planting with asparagus and what grows well with asparagus.

Companion Planting with Asparagus

Companions for asparagus or any other vegetable must be compatible with each other. Asparagus is a perennial that likes a sunny area of the garden. They take 2-3 years to reach a full yield and, thereafter, produce spears for the next 10-15 years! This means that companions for asparagus must like sun exposure and be able to work around the semi-permanent asparagus.

Companions for asparagus may be those that add nutrients to the soil, deter pests and disease, harbor beneficial insects, or aid in water retention or weed retardation.

What Grows Well with Asparagus?

Asparagus companion plants may be other veggie plants, herbs or flowering plants. Asparagus gets along with many other plants, but tomatoes are notorious for being excellent asparagus plant companions. Tomatoes emit solanine, a chemical that repels asparagus beetles. In turn, asparagus gives off a chemical that deters nematodes.

Interplanting parsley and basil, along with the tomatoes, in close proximity to asparagus is also said to repel asparagus beetle. Plant the parsley and basil underneath the asparagus and the tomatoes alongside the asparagus. The bonus is that the herbs help the tomatoes grow better. In this particular companion planting quartet, everyone is a winner.

Other herbs that enjoy asparagus’ company include comfrey, coriander and dill. They repel insect pests like aphids, spider mites and other detrimental insects.

Early crops such as beets, lettuce and spinach can be planted between the asparagus rows in the spring. Then in the summer, plant a second crop of lettuce or spinach. The taller asparagus fronds will give these cool weather greens much needed shade from the sun.

During Colonial times, grapes were trellised between asparagus rows.

Flowers that coexist well with asparagus include marigolds, nasturtiums and members of the Aster family.

The most interesting combination of companion plants for asparagus that I have read about was asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb and horseradish. This sounds like the makings of a fabulous dinner.

What to Avoid Planting Next to Asparagus

Garlic and onions can be offensive to some people, and for those of you who abhor these crops, asparagus agrees with you. Keep them well away from asparagus in the garden. Potatoes are yet another no-no. Cross check and be sure that all the asparagus companion plants are friendly with each other prior to planting, as some plants simply do not like one another.

How to grow strawberries and asparagus in the same bed and double your yields without chemicals. A well-managed perennial bed will continue to produce for 20 or even 30 years. The sooner you plant them, the sooner you’ll realize a harvest. Here’s what you need to know to get the most from these easy to grow perennials.

Strawberries and asparagus are natural companions. Both are early spring crops that will begin to produce after your last frost date. They root on different levels to maximize the nutrient return in your garden. Both should be mulched to keep down weeds and to maximize yields.

Strawberries usually have a 4-year life span, but the plants runner, self-planting new strawberry plants in the same area for years. To prolong the lifespan of your asparagus-strawberry garden, you’ll want to pick varieties of strawberries that runner and manage the runners to keep them within the rows. When you’re considering how to grow strawberries and asparagus for best results, chose self propagating varieties. I prefer midseason strawberry varieties for this application because they will give you a long harvest season but also give you runners to maintain the bed. Everbearing strawberries have a shorter lifespan and don’t produce a runner in the same way.

Some modern gardening methods recommend planting asparagus just 6 inches deep, but if you are going to companion plant with strawberries, plant your asparagus at least 12 inches deep, and plant your strawberries 4 to 6 inches deep. In this way, they will draw nutrients from different levels of the garden bed.

Pick your varieties

For the best results, it is important to choose varieties that were specially bred for your climate. Choose winter hardy strawberries for northern gardens. Picking a type that is sold by your local garden catalog isn’t necessarily a guarantee that the variety will grow well in your area. Do some research once you find out what is available. I purchased 75 Seascape strawberry plants from an Ontario garden catalog, but they didn’t survive my winter. When researching, after the fact, I found that this variety was bred in California and not exceptionally hardy. My zone is on the edge of its hardiness zone. I lost the plants in the second winter. So, remember to consider where varieties originate if you are unsure how to grow strawberries, or new to it.

While you can grow asparagus from seed, you will have a more productive patch if you begin with 1-year-old or 2-year-old crowns and choose an all-male variety. Asparagus plants are either male or female. The male plants produce more spears than female plants. The female plants spend their energy in seed production, which curtails their spear yield the following spring. By choosing an all-male variety, you will have bigger harvests each spring.

If you are subject to late-season frosts, pick a variety of asparagus that comes up later in the spring, such as Guelph millennium, which was extended a full week in trials, but produced more spears over the season. Frost that comes when the spears are up will kill the spears back, reducing yields, so in an area with late spring frost, later yielding varieties will be better.

Garden preparation and yields

Asparagus likes well-drained soil. Too much soil moisture will rot the roots. It likes full sun but will grow with some dappled shade. Pick your spot thoughtfully. Your asparagus will be growing in the same area for decades. You are going to prepare an area that is 10 feet wide by 20 feet long or around 200 square feet. You will have a space large enough for 50 asparagus plants and 75 strawberry plants. Placed on a gentle slope the bed will frost drain, protecting the plants from late spring frosts.

Twenty-five asparagus plants are enough for a family of 4 for the asparagus season. Fifty plants will give you enough asparagus to preserve for winter eating.

To prepare the area, remove all the weeds. Rototill the area or prepare it with a broad fork to loosen the soil. Add 4 inches of finished compost, 1 gallon of bone meal, and about a 1-gallon bucket of wood ashes. Fully incorporate these amendments into the bed. The initial planting time is your chance to amend the soil for long term harvests.

Planting your bed

You’ll plant the asparagus first and then place the strawberry plants between the asparagus in the same rows. Later the strawberries will send out runners into the spots between the asparagus, filling in the area. You will want to thin out the runners as the plants are growing to leave room to step inside the bed so that you can harvest both asparagus and strawberries in June and July every year. Depending on your strawberry variety, they can fill all available room in the bed with runners. Runners can also be pruned back in the early portion of the growing season, to encourage more berry production.

Plant asparagus in trenches. Mark 7 rows using a plumb line, to ensure that your rows are straight. Dig trenches 6 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Place your trenches 2 feet apart. Then mound the soil up inside the trenches at least 6 inches.

Soak your asparagus crown roots in compost tea while you prepare the trenches. They will take a long drink and be ready for the soil if they’ve had a chance to draw in some moisture before planting.

When you are ready to plant, drape the asparagus crowns over the mound in the trench, letting the roots wrap down on either side of the mound. Space your asparagus plants 17 inches apart with 7 plants per 10-foot trench. Cover the crown with dirt, until the soil is level with the ground.

Now place two strawberry plants in between each asparagus crown, 10 to 12 strawberry plants per row. Plant the strawberry plants 4 to 6 inches deep, ensuring that the crown of the strawberry is above the soil surface. Firm the soil in around the plants.

Water well. Then mulch with 4 inches of straw between the rows to keep the weeds in check and control the moisture levels.

Yields:

You can expect ½ to 1 quart of strawberries per plant beginning in year 2, or 35 to 70 quarts each year for your plot. (FYI, a quart of strawberries weighs from 1 ½ to 2 lbs.) Each year you will need to transplant the runners from your strawberry plants into the rows, and in year 4 remove the no longer bearing mother plants.

If you plant all-male two-year-old crowns, your asparagus should give you 15 to 20 lbs of asparagus each year, after year 4.

There is some loss to mold, weeds, and wildlife. Last year I had a wild grouse and her 7 baby grouse helping themselves to the strawberries. (It was worth the loss to see these healthy babies repopulating our homestead.) These yield calculations are just estimates and not guaranteed. There are a lot of factors that contribute to your actual yields. The nice thing about strawberries and asparagus is that you keep getting second chances every spring.

If you planted 2-year-old asparagus crowns, you would get your first small harvest in the 3rd spring after planting. Harvest only those spears that are at least finger thick. Harvest for 6-weeks and then allow the rest to grow into tall ferns. These ferns feed the root and prepare it with nourishment for the winter. Once the ferns die back in the fall, you can clip them and remove them from the bed.

By year four you will have a sizable harvest of spears and every year after that.

Asparagus harvests

Time of year Year Garden task
Spring 1 Plant crowns in the prepared site
Spring 2 Don’t harvest
Spring 3 Harvest finger thick spears for 4 to 6 weeks
Spring 4 to 20 Harvest spears for 6 to 8 weeks

Once your bed is well established, you can expect 50 to 70 lbs of organic strawberries and 20 pounds of organic asparagus every year. Here in BC, both those crops are premium priced. That makes it well worth the effort to prepare the bed and get this going as soon as you can, once you have your homestead.

How to grow strawberries maintenance tasks

Spring:

Replace the mulch between the rows every spring before the spears emerge. Mulch at least 4 to 6 inches deep and cover the rows with mulch around the strawberry plants. The asparagus spears will appear through the mulch. Mulch will keep the weeds down, retain moisture levels, and keep the berries clean and mold free.

Pull any weeds that grow through the mulch and keep the bed weed-free. Water, only if necessary, to maintain soil moisture. Too much water will cause the ripening berries to mold. If you’re wondering how to grow strawberries in the second year, that don’t attract slugs, try mulching with 2nd cut hay to a depth of 6 inches. This keeps chickweed and other spreading weeds from growing under the strawberry leaves and causing mold and mildew.

Harvest asparagus spears when they are 7 to 10 inches long and are finger thick, by cutting or breaking them off at ground level. During the peak of the season, you may need to harvest twice a day. Harvest for 4 to 6 weeks in the 3rd year and then stop and allow the fronds to grow and nourish the root system.

Harvest strawberries as they ripen in the second year, and each year after that. Strawberries do not continue to ripen after picking so wait until the berries are entirely red before picking. Midseason varieties have a long harvest season of at least four weeks from mid-June to mid-July, depending on your last frost date.

Summer:

Hand-pick slugs and other pests from the plants. Keep the bed weed free. Add more mulch if it becomes reduced by compaction or decomposition.

After the harvest, pull back the mulch on the rows and side dress the rows with finished compost and add additional straw mulch around the plants. Do this at least four weeks before your expected frost, so that the plants don’t have tender growth that will be damaged by frost.

Fall:

Plant strawberry runners in the rows and allow them to establish by the end of August. Remove any 4-year-old strawberry plants and replace with fresh runner plants. Allow asparagus fonds to die back before clipping and removing from the bed.

Winter:

If you get reliable snow the winter snow cover is enough protection for the bed. If you don’t get snow, cover the bed with evergreen branches or straw mulch for the winter. You’ll need to remove this mulch from the strawberry plants in the spring so that the heavy spring rains don’t damage the plants.

Asparagus-Strawberry Planting in a nutshell

Strawberry Asparagus
Number of plants 75 50
200 Square Feet of garden space 10 plants per 10-foot row 7 plants per 10-foot row
Expected Yields 35 to 70 lbs in 3rd year and thereafter 20 lbs in 4th year and thereafter
Years of yields 15 years or more 25 years or more
Total yields over the life of a bed 600+ lbs. 400+ lbs.

Permaculture in action

When we planted our asparagus bed, we interplanted strawberries with them. The bed was 10 x 20 feet, (on a gentle slope to act as a frost drain) and held 50 asparagus crowns (Millennium all-male variety) and 75 mid-season strawberry plants (Cavendish variety). The asparagus will extract nutrients from the soil at a deeper level than the strawberries, better utilizing the space and giving two crops that are ready early in the season before the other garden work is demanding.

We’ve placed this bed between two rows of apple trees, and the apples don’t mind the competition. Once the harvest is over, the asparagus and strawberry bed can be mulched well to reduce weeding. So far the experiment is working. We are getting three harvests from one space on an annual basis with very little work.

Consider placing a swale in contour on the uphill side of the bed to increase water retention and reduce runoff. Placing a swale on the lower edge of the bed will reduce the need for supplemental watering during the growing season, in dry areas.

I hope you’ll try these perennials in your homestead garden. Even if you only have a small space, it is good to learn how to grow strawberries in pots, or in a raised bed.

You’ll like these posts on Permaculture techniques:

Making a hugelkultur bed that you don’t need to bend over to plant or weed

How to build a hugelkultur bed

Extend your season with an old fashioned hot bed

Use nature by learning how to grow mushrooms on logs (part 1) around your property

Planting strawberries & asparagus

Hi,
Both strawberries and asparagus are best planted in the spring, while the plants are dormant. You could plant them now, but they will need a thick layer of mulch to help them survive the winter and regular water during the fall and winter to aid in establishment (and prevent them from drying out).
Plant strawberries at the center of the crown on each plant (the center of the crown should be at the soil line)…planting too shallow or too deep will result in poor fruit production. Asparagus crowns should be planted at the soil line, but then covered with 1-2 inches of soil following planting. As the plants grow in the spring, you will continue to add soil, but not bury the ferns.
One of the best mulches to use is weed-free straw. Add a layer, 3-4″ thick around the plants after the first frost. As growth begins in the spring, push back the straw to allow the plants to grow normally.
Here’s more information:
Strawberries (U of Minnesota): http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/strawberries-for-the-home-garden/
Asparagus: (Utah State):

Companion planting has a long, storied history. Individuals have noted benefits (and drawbacks) when certain plant species are grown in close proximity to one another for hundreds of years, and many books have been written on the topic. Interestingly, the scientific causes of many of these relationships are not fully understood. But, the principles work and the beneficial symbiotic relationships can be measured among many types of plants.

The increased biodiversity is usually beneficial, but the planting of various plants in close proximity often yields multifaceted benefits. Two of the primary benefits are pest control and increased yield. There are many resources available to help develop a garden (or even a permaculture) that thrives based on mutual assistance and inter-connectivity of well-planned companion planting layouts. The purpose of this post, however, is to deal specifically with companion plants for strawberry plants and what benefits can be achieved by companion planting strawberries in your garden.

Companion Planting Strawberries

To begin, it is important to remember the nature of strawberry plants. They are prolific, can be somewhat invasive, and most varieties will quickly form a thick matted row made up of strawberry runners if left alone. Because of this, it is best to think in terms of which plants can help strawberries grow, not the other way around. While strawberry plants themselves hurt relatively few other plants (the exception will be discussed below) by being planted near them, their rapidly expanding range can end up depleting nutrients or competing with other plants if they aren’t actively monitored.

Strawberry Companion Plants

If there is a magic bullet of companion planting, it is likely the herb borage. Borage helps a vast number of other plants. To learn more about its interaction with strawberries, see this article on strawberry plants & borage. Aside from borage, however, there are several other plants beneficial to strawberry plants. They are:

Borage (Borago officinalis)

This herb is a virtual magic bullet when it comes to companion planting. To learn about its relationship with the humble strawberry, click the link just above for detailed information.

Bush Beans (Phaseolus)

The common bean is known benefactor of strawberry plants. It repels some beetles and hosts nitrogen-fixing bacteria which serve to fertilize the soil for better strawberry yields.

Caraway (Carum carvi)

Caraway is another herb that indirectly benefits strawberry plants by being nearby. The primary benefit of caraway is that it attracts parasitic wasps and parasitic flies that are voracious predators of many common strawberry pests.

Lupin (Lupinus)

This flower is actually a legume. Like the beans mentioned above, it also fixes nitrogen in the soil, thereby fertilizing for surrounding plants, including strawberries. It also attracts honeybees.

Strawberry Companion Planting: Danger!

Not all plants will even tolerate the presence of strawberries, however. The most notable garden plants that are harmed by the proximity of strawberry plants are those related to the cabbage.

Cabbage Family (Brassica oleracea)

Avoid planting strawberries near members of Brassica oleracea. The cabbage family plants will have their growth impaired by strawberry plants close by. The major members of the cabbage family include: broccoli, broccoflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and Romanesco broccoli.

Verticillium-Susceptible Species

The most common of these plants are tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. If these plants (or melons, okra, mint, bush or bramble fruits, stone fruits, chrysanthemums, and roses) have been grown in the same spot recently (within 5 years), it is best to grow your strawberry plants elsewhere. Otherwise, the strawberry plants may be infected and die themselves.

Companion Planting Strawberries: Conclusion

The strawberry companion plants listed here are the well-established ones that have consistently demonstrated the mentioned benefits or drawbacks. However, there are surely more plant species out there that will interact either positively or negatively with strawberry plants. If you are aware of other plants that interact with strawberries, share your knowledge! You can tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment below, and start companion planting strawberries today!

Introduction to Growing Strawberries

Do you want to grow strawberries? This “how to grow” section is dedicated to providing helpful information and suggestions for your success!

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Steps to Success
  3. Planting Summary
  4. Video Guides
  5. Quick Tips
  6. View our Strawberry plants

Overview

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June Bearing Strawberry Plants: These varieties can provide berries for approximately 4-6 weeks if you include Early Season through Late Season varieties in your garden. We suggest not allowing plants to fruit the first year, by removing all blossoms. This will enable the plants to produce a larger crop the second year. A well maintained planting of June Bearers can last 3-5 years!

Early Season: Plants begin fruiting in late spring for approximately 10 days.

Early Midseason: Plants begin fruiting 5 days after the beginning of Early Season varieties for approximately 10 days.

Midseason: Plants begin fruiting 8 days after the beginning of Early Season varieties for approximately 10 days.

Late Midseason: Plants begin fruiting 10 days after the beginning of Early Season varieties for approximately 10 days.

Late Season: Plants begin fruiting 14 days after the beginning of Early Season varieties for approximately 10 days.

Everbearing (Dayneutrals): These varieties offer instant gratification all season, yielding berries from July through October. Ideal for annual planting, we recommend you select two varieties and plant every 1-2 years.

Steps to Success

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Step 1 – Plan your Space

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Step 2 – Prepare your Planting Area

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Step 3 – Plant your Strawberries

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Step 4 – Harvest your Strawberries

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Step 5 – Maintain your Strawberry Plants

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June Bearing

IRRIGATION

  • Throughout the growing season, 1″ – 2″ rainfall or equivalent is necessary per week, depending on soil.

FERTILIZATION

Establishment year

  • Mix ½ lb of 10–10–10 per 100 sq ft into soil 2 or more weeks prior to planting.
  • Side–dress with ½ lb 10–10–10 in July, August and September.

Subsequent years

  • Side–dress with 1½ lb 10–10–10 between renovation (see below) and early September.
  • Regularly check the soil pH and amend to keep at the optimum 6.5–6.8.
  • CAUTION: Over–fertilizing is detrimental.

WEED CONTROL

  • Thoroughly remove weeds prior to planting.
  • Weekly cultivation is required. Remember the roots are shallow. Take care not to damage the roots.
  • You may apply a granular herbicide to control weeds before they grow. Check with your local agricultural extension before using chemicals.
  • Proper mulching will aid in weed control.

RENOVATION

  • June–bearing strawberry plants require renovation. After all the berries have been harvested, mow or clip the plants and remove the clippings from the strawberry bed. Do not renovate in the planting year. (Ever–bearing/day–neutral strawberry plants are not renovated.)
  • Be careful not to cut or injure the crowns during this process.
  • Apply 1 lb 10–10–10 per 100 sq ft at time of renovation and ½ lb per 100 sq ft in September.

WINTER PROTECTION

  • Cover plants with 4″ of straw (not hay) mulch to protect the crowns. Salt hay is acceptable – do not use leaves.
  • Apply mulch after several significant frosts.
  • Remove mulch in early spring before new growth begins.

Ever-Bearing

  • Throughout the growing season, 1″ – 2″ rainfall or equivalent is necessary per week, depending on soil.

Establishment year

  • Mix ½ lb of 10–10–10 per 100 sq ft into soil 2 or more weeks prior to planting.
  • Side–dress with ½ lb 10–10–10 in July, August.

Subsequent years

  • Side–dress with ½ lb 10–10–10 in July, August.
  • Regularly check the soil pH and amend to keep at the optimum 6.5–6.8.
  • CAUTION: Over-fertilizing is detrimental.
  • Thoroughly remove weeds prior to planting.
  • Weekly cultivation is required. Remember the roots are shallow. Take care not to damage the roots.
  • You may apply a granular herbicide to control weeds before they grow. Check with your local agricultural extension before using chemicals.
  • Proper mulching will aid in weed control.
  • Ever-bearing / day–neutral strawberry plants are not renovated
  • Cover plants with 4″ of straw (not hay) mulch to protect the crowns. Salt hay is acceptable – do not use leaves.
  • Apply mulch after several significant frosts.
  • Remove mulch in early spring before new growth begins.

Click to print PDF of the Strawberry Steps to Success

Planting Summary

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Spacing

  • 12” – 18” between plants unless otherwise noted
  • 3’ – 4’ between rows
  • Depth – see our Planting Guide for detailed charts

Irrigation

  • Water thoroughly after planting
  • 1”-2” rainfall or equivalent per week, depending on soil

Fertilization

  • Mix ½-1lb of 10-10-10 per 100 sq ft into soil before planting
  • Add supplementary fertilizer in July and August
  • pH: 6.5-6.8

Weed Control

  • Prepare your site prior to planting
  • Control weeds before they start with a granular herbicide
  • Proper mulching will aid in weed control

Winter Protection

  • Cover plants with straw to protect the crowns
  • Apply mulch after several good frosts
  • Remove mulch in early spring before new growth

Video Guides

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Our videos are written and produced by Nate Nourse and are aimed at your success. You’ll find all our Video Learning Guides in our Video Library.

Planting and Growing our Strawberry Plant Nursery

Digging and Packing Strawberry Plants

How to Plant
Strawberries

Quick Tips

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Healthy berry plants require these important elements:

  • Early planting! Plant as early as possible in the spring. Snow or occasional frost will not hurt most new plants (green tissue culture plants excepted), and spring rains will foster growth. Planting in the fall is not recommended in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • A sunny, weed-free location with at least a half-day of sunlight.
  • Clean beds that are frequently weeded.
  • Well-drained soil. For poor drainage conditions, consider raised beds.
  • Proper soil pH. Matching soil pH to plant requirements can be a huge factor in your success. Sample the soil before planting and contact your local cooperative extension office for assistance.
  • Crop rotation. Avoid planting strawberries or raspberries in soils where previous crops have included strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant or peppers. These crops may harbor the soil pathogens Verticillium, Phytophthora and nematodes and may affect your new plants.
  • Irrigation. Maintain proper moisture levels throughout the season and, most importantly, during the establishment period. Drip irrigation is imperative when planting in raised beds.

Avoid Common Mistakes

  • Read free planting guide 1-3 months before planting.
  • Plants will fail to flourish if roots are too deep or too shallow.
  • Pack soil firmly around the roots.
  • Do not plant near wild plants or plants whose origins are unknown.
  • Water well one to three times a week, not every day.
  • Avoid fertilizer burn by fertilizing only after plants are established.
  • Do not soak plants in water more than 1 hour!

166 Wilson Road,
Middle Swan

If you have never grown rhubarb, think about giving it a go. We have found it to be reasonably easy to grow, if you provide its ideal growing conditions! It is originally native to Siberia and parts of the Himalayas – so it needs some care in our dry, Mediterranean climate.

Rhubarb likes enriched soil (feed it up with compost and poo) and keep it well mulched over summer. It will wilt and show you it needs a drink in the warmer months. We have found ours grows best in almost full shade – it certainly can’t cope with full summer sun. Rhubarb will grow well in a large pot, and you can then move it around to suit the seasons.

Rhubarb is available in seedling form for a large part of the year, and as crowns in winter. Crowns are divided sections of a mature plant, lifted from the ground. The advantage of growing them this way is they are then able to be harvested much quicker than seedlings, which can take several years to reach maturity, and immature plants are more vulnerable in their early growth stage. (This picture is a seedling in our garden in its second year. Stems are about as thick as your thumb, and only 25cm long approx.)

If you plant a crown section, it is still recommended not to harvest during the first year, just to enable the plant to really establish itself and be robust for future seasons. (Although surely one or two stems might not hurt!…) Rhubarb plants can grow for up to 15 years, so it pays to look after them! They do flower and set seed – although I have never seen this. Apparently it is more common on older plants (4 years+), and flowering is triggered by cold winters. Some people recommend removing flower heads to promote more vigorous stem growth. Others like the spectacle. If you are planting several crowns, allow at least 80cms between each plant – they will eventually grow quite large, with leaf stems growing up to 75cms long. Plant so the crown (where there should be signs of new shoots emerging) is just at ground level. Don’t bury too deep.

Rhubarb roots and leaves are both poisonous, so never eat these portions of the plant. In fact, rhubarb leaves can be made into a homemade insect spray, suitable for aphids and other sap sucking insects. Boil leaves (at a ratio of about 1:10) with water, and add about half a cup full of pure soap flakes. Allow to cool, and strain. Use immediately – it doesn’t store well.

Most varieties available here seem to be greener stemmed rather than deep red in colour. From what I have been able to research this is due to (a) green stemmed varieties being more prolific growers, and thus easier for commercial propagation/cultivation, and (b) flavour. Apparently darker red stems = more tartness. People have told me age of the plant and the amount of sun it’s grown in also can affect colouration – I’d love to hear any other theories that may be out there!?? Personally, I grow it for that intense flavour, whatever the colour! (I know of a lady who adds (natural) red food colouring to hers when she cooks it!) There is certainly nothing “wrong” with green rhubarb stems, and they are not unripe – a common misconception.

When picking rhubarb stems, break them away downwards. Remove them carefully so as not to damage the crown Don’t cut the stems as this causes rot, and you can lose the whole plant. (I have proved this from unfortunate personal experience!)

Reasonably hardy (providing they are situated well in good soil) – they can handle frosts, and are fairly disease resistant, although some fungal problems eg. Downy mildew (usually due to damp conditions and poor airflow) can occur. Snails and slugs can also damage stems.

Good companion plants for rhubarb are onions & garlic, and also members of the brassica family (cabbage, kale, broccoli, turnips – etc).

Rhubarb goes perfectly with apples… and cream!! Here is a really simple recipe idea to try, found in the free ‘Winter 2012 Feel Good Food’ magazine & courtesty of www.kidspot.com.au

Fast Rhubarb Jam

(makes approx. 3 cups)

  • 3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 6 stalks)
  • 2 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 packet strawberry jelly crystals

Chop rhubarb into smallish chunks, put in saucepan and add water. Stir and simmer until rhubarb softens. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Turn off heat. Add jelly crystals and stir well until dissolved. Pour into sterlisised jars or clean well sealed plastic storage containers if storing in fridge or freezer. Cool to set before serving.

Growing rhubarb among other vegetable plants

There is an additional source that I thought would be helpful to you. The Rhubarb-Central.com’s article on Rhubarb Companion Gardening (http://www.rhubarb-central.com/companion-gardening.html)

What Garden Companions
to Grow with Rhubarb

Looking for Rhubarb Companion Gardening ideas?

My experience with growing rhubarb is that it grows very well alongside almost any garden vegetables and flowers, but there are a few points to consider in this regard.

Here are a tips suggesting a few plants that should not be planted near rhubarb, and several suggestions of plants that are favourable/helpful to grow alongside rhubarb in the home garden.

Gardening with Plant Companions is a great concept, by which, with careful planning, you can “help plants help each other” by choosing which garden companions to grow together.

In some cases this method of planting can help attract “helpful” bugs or repel “harmful” bugs.

In other instances particular types of plants may be planted to assist other plants by the natural addition of nutrients into the soil.

There are claims that companion planting helps to improve plant growth, plant health, and food flavour. Even planting certain larger leaf plants, (for example, rhubarb), can assist other, more sun sensitive plants by providing shelter from the sun.

Members of the Brassica family such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower are also good companions for rhubarb, but rhubarb really does not require specific garden companions. In fact, our rhubarb garden is just that…a rhubarb garden, with no other vegetables or other plants, and it thrives amazingly!

One visitor to Rhubarb Central.com offers this advice: “Whilst rhubarb doesn’t really need companion plants, strawberries are in fact a fantastic companion plant for rhubarb and the relationship is very much reciprocal.”

Some gardeners claim that rhubarb should not be planted near legumes, because legumes may attract the tarnished plant bug, which can become a rhubarb pest.

One weed, which does adversely affect rhubarb is Dock Weed Plants.

Dock Weeds, (see the pictures below), are perennial weeds and a member of the Buckwheat Family growing 0.8 to 1.5 metres tall.

These weeds have a deep penetrating yellow taproot; dark green leaves that are wavy and crisp along the margins.

Dock Weeds turn a rusty-red colour when mature.

These weeds attract a bug called the “Rhubarb Curculio”, a yellowish beetle that bores into rhubarb stalks.

If you find a jelly-like, clear substance (see image above) on your rhubarb stalks, you most likely have had this pest visit your rhubarb patch. For more information about this rhubarb pest,

GO to Rhubarb Pests – Rhubarb Curculio
Some sources claim that rhubarb plants protect beans, peas, and other legumes against the black fly, and deters spider mites from columbine flowers. I personally have not had the opportunity to test these theories.”

HARVEST OR PICK

Allow new plants to grow for their first year without harvesting the stems – this will allow them to establish strong and productive root systems for future crops.
Stems are best picked when they turn red from spring into summer. Bend the stems away from the plant and then pull so they pop out of their joint with the crown. Cut away the poisonous leaves and put them into your compost heap.
You can speed the process up by putting an upside down bucket over the young developing leaves (this is called ‘forcing’ and the early crop of light-deprived stems are tender and sweet). The only thing is that ‘forcing’ weakens a crown so only do this if you have several plants as they need to remain un-harvested in the following year as they recover.
When summer gets too hot for Rhubarb it just gives up for a while and stops producing more leaves. However, don’t give up on your Rhubarb it is just slowing down for the height of summer like the rest of us. Rhubarb plants can get old after a few years and go a bit ‘woody’ in the center with the result that leaves become smaller and the all-important stems start to go skinny. If this happens, carefully dig up your dormant ‘crown’ in late winter with a fork and split it in half or quarters – depending on how big it is. Do this splitting with a spade and then cut away the older parts of what was the center. You should end up with a few pieces at least a good handful in size with healthy looking roots and firm flesh. These can then be re-planted immediately – with soil level as was previous – or donated to friends.

Asparagus is usually quite expensive in the shops so it makes sense to grow some if you have the space. It is an easy vegetable to grow if you get the basics right and it will crop for many years. So on with companion planting asparagus.

Growing Asparagus

Asparagus is a perrenial vegetable, traditionally grown in it’s own bed. The bed is then kept weed free all year creating a good deal of wasted space. Of course on most plots this is just not an option, and if you are going to grow something with it , it should be something that will help your asparagus to thrive.

Companion Planting Asparagus

Good companion plants for asparagus are tomatoes. Tomatoes will grow into large plants after the asparagus season is over. Asparagus beetles don’t like tomato plants so growing tomatoes in the same bed will not only utilise the space but also keep your asparagus plants healthy.

As keeping weeds down is necessary for growing asparagus, it is wise to grow a selection of the following plants in the asparagus bed:-

  • Marigolds
  • Parsley
  • Basil

These plants will not only suppress the weeds but also help the tomatoes stay healthy and tasty.

  • Strawberries

Strawberries are a good plant to grow amongst the Asparagus as they have a short root system, and they will not inhibit the growth of the asparagus fronds through the growing season.

There are a few plants that should be kept well away from asparagus these include:-

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes

Asparagus grow quite an extensive root system which does not like to be disturbed. So Potatoes would definitely be a bad choice to share the same bed.

As for onions and Garlic these both need plenty of nutrients to grow healthy bulbs, and so does asparagus. It is obviously not a good idea to have plants competing too much for nutrients.

All About Asparagus

Can I Grow Asparagus?

Asparagus will grow well in virtually all areas of the US and lower Canada, except where there is extreme summer heat. For marginal areas where the lack of reliable freezing temperatures fail to initiate a dormancy rest period, withholding water in the winter can achieve a similar effect. Although asparagus favors a sandy loam soil, it is quite tolerant of all but the densest clays. As long as drainage is good and soil moisture can be maintained during the growing season, the asparagus plants will thrive. Asparagus should be planted in a new section of the garden that has never been cultivated. This will minimize soil-borne diseases that can attack the plants when growing asparagus.

Yields will be highest in full-sun sites, but asparagus plants will also tolerate partial shade. The optimum pH range for growing asparagus is between 6.5 to 7.0. Test for pH the fall before establishing a new bed of asparagus as an average of six months is needed to raise pH. Pulverized limestone is the least expensive and fastest acting way to raise pH. A bit pricier but easier to apply and somewhat slower acting, are pelletized and granular limestone that can be applied with spreaders. After initial application to correct pH, the rule of thumb to maintain pH is to apply 5 lbs. of lime each year for every 100 square feet of planted area. Where soil pH is too high, apply sulfur to correct as recommended by a soil test or at a rate of 1/4 lb. per 100 square feet each year.
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What is the History of Asparagus?

Should I Plant Asparagus Seeds or Plants?

Although most gardeners prefer the convenience of setting out asparagus crowns (roots), those wishing to plant more than the three dozen or so plants sufficient for a family of four might appreciate the economy of growing asparagus from seed. Taking three weeks to germinate and slow to get going, the asparagus seeds should be sown indoors 12 to 14 weeks before the target seedling set-out date, which should be after the danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds 1/4-inch deep using a sterile seeding mix in individual 2-inch cells. Acclimate in a cold frame for one week prior to setting out in the garden.

However, most of us will opt for asparagus crowns. Upon receipt, keep crowns covered with a damp cloth or newspaper in a cool, dark, place until planting time. Unlike seedlings, asparagus crowns can be set out whenever the soil can be worked, which is usually about the time they are shipped.

Asparagus Roots at Burpee

  • Jersey Knight Asparagus
  • Jersey Supreme Hybrid Asparagus
  • Mary Washington Asparagus
  • Pacific Purple Asparagus

Asparagus Seeds & Plants at Burpee

  • Jersey Giant Asparagus
  • Mary Washington Asparagus

How Do I Cultivate Asparagus Plants?

Asparagus should be grown on the north or east side of the garden so mature ferns will not shade other vegetables. Traditionalists plant asparagus in deep trenches partially filled with soil amended with compost or rotted manure. This can be labor-intensive especially where rocks or roots are present. An alternate technique requires almost no digging (deep power tilling will do) and relies on surface fertilizing and raising soil above the bed.

Prior to planting asparagus, broadcast and work in 1 to 2 lbs. of 5-10-10 fertilizer, or the equivalent, per 100 square feet of planting area. Apply lime with the fertilizer if not done earlier.

Dig a V-shaped trench 6 to 8 inches deep and about the same width at the bottom. Set out the asparagus crowns with the roots spread out in all directions. Space at 12 to 16 inches apart for thick spears; 8 to 10 for thin. Cover the crowns with 2 to 3 inches of soil and water in thoroughly if soil is not already moist. During the asparagus growing season, gradually refill in the trench, but avoid covering the asparagus shoots as they grow. Afterwards, by pulling soil from the path area, the beds can be raised several inches higher for improved drainage and winter protection. Garden rows should be 4 to 5 feet apart. Some may prefer to widen the base of the trench to stagger the plants in the row for intensive planting. Side dress in late July or August with 1 lb. of 5-10-10 for each 100 square feet of growing area.

How to Grow Asparagus

Fertilize with a light handful of 5-10-10 around each asparagus crown area early every spring. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as they throw off the fern-to-root balance in the plant, and avoid hot manures such as hog, sheep or poultry. Bone meal and high calcium dolmitic limestone are often recommended. While watering is thought necessary only during drought periods, asparagus yields will improve if steady soil moisture levels are maintained. Mulching reduces weeding chores by controlling weed seed emergence and helps to improve the soil by slowly adding organic matter as it breaks down. Mulch also protects asparagus spears if frost occurs during early spear emergence. A loose mulch layer of 4 to 6 inches of leaves or straw is preferred to a heavy material that could smother and prevent spear growth. Be diligent in keeping the asparagus bed free of weeds as they compete for nutrients and can mat the soil surface.

What Insects & Diseases Can Kill Asparagus?

The main asparagus disease culprits are fusarium wilt and crown rot, and to a lesser extent rust. Fusarium causes significant decline in yields and shortens plant life. In the spring, asparagus spears appear wilted and small and may have a brownish color. It may not always be identifiable by the home gardener, but inspection of the asparagus roots by an extension agent can confirm its presence. To minimize fusarium dangers, avoid sites where asparagus has grown in the last 8 years, and select disease resistant varieties.

Crown rot appears as deterioration and rotting of tissues where the stem and the roots join. It is a usually caused by soil-borne fungi and will eventually kill the asparagus plants. The best defense is to plant resistant varieties.

Rust disease symptoms appear as small orange patches on asparagus spears and on fern branches. High humidity and warm temperatures promote rust, so avoid it by choosing rust-resistant varieties.

A gang of four different insects might threaten your asparagus patch. Two asparagus beetles, the common and spotted beetle can do damage. The common has a bluish head with a bit of red behind it and dark blue wings with yellow spots. Adults lay rows of black eggs on young shoots which hatch in a week of so. The larvae (dark-olive in color) feed on the shoot tips for a couple of weeks before dropping to the soil where they eventually mature to adults.

Brushing off the eggs or handpicking the larvae is an effective control. The spotted beetle is reddish orange with black spots on the back. The eggs are yellow to light green in color.

Encouraging beneficials such as ladybugs or applying insecticidal soaps reduces aphids, noticeable by their massed presence on growing asparagus tips and the sooty blotches they leave behind.

Light-colored thrips, which can be quite harmful, can be detected by shaking a fern over black paper, or as farmers do, on the hood of their dark-painted pickups. If heavy rains don’t come to your aid, try a high-pressure hose spray to discourage thrips. Insecticidal soaps help as well.

Asparagus Harvesting Tips

Asparagus Recipes & Storage

At the counter, hold an asparagus spear at both ends and allow it to snap at the natural point where tenderness begins. When cutting asparagus following a sand-pounding rainfall, it might be wise to remove the buds as grit can get firmly lodged in them. Select spears of consistent thickness for even cooking. Many recipes call for holding back on cooking the asparagus tips until the last few minutes after the thicker portions are nearly done. Freshly harvested tips are so tender they hardly need cooking at all.

Store asparagus spears in the coolest part of the refrigerator wrapped with a damp paper towel placed in a perforated or open plastic bag for up to 4 days. Do not place spears in a sealed plastic bag, as gases given off by the plant will speed spoilage. For brief storage, stand the butt ends of the spears in a shallow pan of water in a cool location out of direct sunlight.

Steamed Asparagus

Place asparagus spears upright (do not pack tightly) in a tall steamer, or lay flat in a steamer basket placed over one to two inches of water and cover. Steam about 4 to 5 minutes for thin asparagus and up to 7 to 10 minutes for the very thick spears. Check for doneness by sampling a spear. The asparagus should by firm with a bit of crunch. Salt and pepper to taste, or blanket with a béarnaise sauce or a white sauce laced with cheddar cheese.

Stir-Fry or Sautéed Asparagus

  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut to 1 1/2 -inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons chicken stock or water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of water
  • In a wok or large sauté pan over medium heat add oil and then asparagus. Cover and cook for 4 minutes.
  • Remove cover, raise heat to high and add stock and soy sauce, stirring frequently.
  • Cook for another minute, give the cornstarch mixture a quick stir, and add to the pan, stirring for another minute.
  • For a garnish, sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  • Serve alone or over rice.
  • For a variation, replace. One tablespoon of soy sauce with oyster sauce. Garlic and ginger are also options.

Roasted Asparagus

Roasting brings out an extra depth of flavor.

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Toss asparagus to coat with extra-virgin olive oil
  • Season with salt and pepper and roast in a shallow baking pan for 8 to 10 minutes until tender, but still firm.
  • Serve with grated Parmesan, garlic-enhanced mayonnaise or a salsa.
  • Garnish with lemon wedges.

Other Recipe Ideas

  • Make an omelet with pre-cooked asparagus tips.
  • Make a béchamel (white) sauce and then add a mild cheese, crab meat and cooked asparagus and serve on rice.
  • Add spears to your favorite soup, or make an asparagus soup using the saved stems for stock-what color!

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