With the (early) arrival of spring so comes the flowering shrubs and trees – forsythia, plums, apricots and crabapples – as well as the initial vegetable growth from asparagus and garlic.
A combination of fertile soil, plenty of water and sunshine, a dash of love and care, and even a little hope and crossed-fingers, should fill your refrigerator and pantry for years to come.
One of the first vegetables to wake in the spring, asparagus, is a rarity in the vegetable world in our climate: It’s a perennial. Underground, the plant is a mass of fibrous and storage roots as well as the all-important rhizomes (subterranean stem that will send off roots and shoots from nodes).
It is from these rhizome nodes that spears (edible shoots) arise every spring. This clump makes up the crown, or the perennial part of the plant, and is what we plant when starting a new patch of asparagus.
Getting ready to plant asparagus crowns typically takes more time than planting annual vegetables, and it’s important that gardeners make the effort to prepare the bed.
You will want to work 4 inches of compost into a furrow that is 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep. Plant the crowns as you would a bare-root shrub by spreading the roots in the bottom of the trench and then covering with a couple inches of soil. As the plant starts to grow, carefully fill in the furrow with more soil, making sure you avoid covering any foliage.
Ideally, by the end of the first growing season, the furrow will be filled. As fall arrives, leave the foliage on the plant (remove dead stalks in spring) and mulch with a couple inches of straw or leaves.
The challenge with asparagus is waiting – no spears should be harvested the first year. Penn State University recommends a 1-2-4-8-week sequence for harvesting: Pick for 1 week the second year (you may want to sacrifice harvesting the second year as well), 2 weeks the third year, 4 weeks the fourth year, and then potentially 8 weeks from the fifth onward. Choose spears that are as thick as your pinkie finger or larger, snapping or cutting them off at the soil line. Once the thickness drops, stop harvesting.
If you haven’t planted garlic in your vegetable beds yet, then tough luck – you will have to wait until next fall to take on that chore. Garlic, part of the allium family, requires a cold treatment of 40 degrees for two months to initiate bulbing. So even though we had a relatively warm winter, if you planted your cloves correctly last year, you should be seeing emerging garlic leaves right now.
The vast majority of garlic varieties can be classified into one of two types: stiffneck or softneck. Aficionados have their preferences, but I have had success planting stiffneck varieties. They tend to produce smaller bulbs but larger cloves that are easier to peel.
Stiffneck varieties also send up a false flower stalk, called a scape, in late spring. The scape should be cut or snapped right about at the foliage line when it starts to coil, or curl, in a circular fashion. If left on the plant, it can significantly reduce bulb size and yield. Scapes are tasty, so don’t discard them – use them as a tasty green in stir fries or in pesto.
Garlic requires consistent watering because its rooting depth is relatively shallow. Once the plant starts to mature in summer, cut down or eliminate irrigation as excess water can cause the bulb to split.
email@example.com or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.