Martha Washington Asparagus

teauteau(KC5/6)October 19, 2008

Hey Everyone,

Just soliciting opinions. I have a bunch of Martha Washington Asparagus seed I purchased for next to nothing and I have a huge area on my acreage I wanted to turn into an asparagus bed. I know the Martha Washington is an heirloom (open pollinated) asparagus but what would be the cons against planting this. I understand there are a lot of female plants involved which cause a lot of reseeding and the beds can get weedy? Are the female spears inferior to the male spear? I notice that the seeds are for sale on line and locally. Give me your two cents please? I appreciate it in advance.

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I think it's a fine old variety. I suppose that, for commercial growers, a little bit of extra yield from the all-male varieties might make a difference between profit and loss for the year.

I think the main claim about the all-male varieties is that the spears are thicker/larger diameter. Whether or not this is true I don't know. I've also read posts on this forum and other gardening forums in the past where people have commented that some of their "all-male" plants turned out to bear berries anyway, not a large percentage of them, but at least a few.

Anyway, the cost of seed of MW is MUCH cheaper than buying roots of all-male plants. I decided to expand my patch significantly this year, in light of the 'Global Food Crisis, so I bought an ounce of MW seed this spring for $7, and it made 200 4" cells by planting 5 to 6 seeds per cell, which is actually really overkill, but I could have planted 1000 cells worth, but I just don't need that many plants for household use.

I don't understand exactly what you mean by "the beds can get weedy" in terms of reseeding -- yes, they will reseed, but this is a great thing, IMO -- free plants, what's not to like. However, I guess if you need discrete rows, etc., to allow tractors/equipment access, it could be a problem, but I assume that the equipment would kill the volunteers in the pathways. Otherwise, commercially, I think most weeds in aspargus are controlled with herbicdes.

You might want to post your questions over on the market garden forum, and get opinions from professional growers. I'm just a home gardener, so I don't know all of the ins and outs of commercial asparagus farming. I just know that, in my garden, I have both MW and one of the Jersey series -- I can't remember if it's Jersey Giant or Jersey Knight, but frankly, I don't see anything very special about the Jersey variety -- it's not bad, just not that big of an improvement over good old MW.

Good luck with your venture. I live in the suburbs, and there are virtually NO working farms left in my county. The only one I know of in about a 20 mile radius is a lone holdout who has partnered with Michigan State University in a pilot project on urban/suburban u-pick type farming, and he grows asparagus, strawberries, pumpkins, and apples, and seems to have a thriving business. People line up in the spring for the aspargus (this isn't pick your own, it's all picked, and cars just drive up to buy it). He was getting $2.25 a lb this past spring, which is pretty good (pricey, I mean, good for him, sort of high for the customer, but it's FRESH and LOCAL), IMO, although I have NO idea if this is a profitable price for him or not.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 9:51PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

The main reason experienced gus growers prefer the all male Jersey varieties is, as denninmi said, better production of larger spears and less over-crowding overtime. MW is fine for taste but it does reseed and you do have to pull plants every few years or the beds get way to crowded and plants begin to die and production falls off. MW crowns seldom get as large as the Jersey ones so # of spears per crown is less, thus less productive use of the space.

If that is no concern to you then use the MW. But growing from seed is several years until production you can harvest to eat. Buying 1 or 2 yr old crowns gives you gus to eat several years sooner. Ultimately, it's your choice. ;)


PS: if you search 'asparagus' here you'll find many discussions about growing it that you might want to review.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 10:44PM
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I have wondered if someone planted Martha Washington and then was very diligent about removing all of the female plants would the resulting All Male Martha Washington Plants be as good as the all Male Jersey hybrids?

Has anyone tried this? And if so what were the results?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 2:18PM
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hercules(PA 6a)


You pose a very interesting that I've never seen before. There have been many studies of production differentials of the older varieties vs. the Jersey all-male ones, and there are no data that I know of to dispute the significant superior production and spear quality produced from the Jersey crowns.

That said, I'd encourage you to send an email to Jersey Asparagus Farms and ask the pro's. (google for their addy). Direct your request to "Scott Walker please - I have a question". Your initial reaction to this advice may strike you as naive on my part, but I have confidence that you'll get an honest answer...these are good people and have incredible knowledge of asparagus characteristics and a willingness to share it. (IMHO)

You've piqued my interest, too, with your question. If you follow up on this, please let us know what you find.

Hal in Pa.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 6:09PM
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huh ??? Mary has a sister named Martha . I'm confused .

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 6:26PM
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I lost track of this thread and just now have sent the email to Scott Walker. Here is his response.

Hi Randy,
Martha and Mary Washington were asparagus varieties that were developed in the very early 1900's. They are what we call open pollinated varieties. Over the years the original Martha and Mary Washington varieties have been lost. They have been diluted with many other crosses of asparagus. So the Martha Washington variety of today is just seed that is harvested from any asparagus field.
The Jersey varieties are hybrids. The parent plants were selected for certain characteristics and then cloned in a tissue culture lab. So basically you have thousands of the same female and thousands of the same male plant in a field. Bees are brought in for pollination and you get seed of a desired cross. Unlike the Washington varieties which are crosses of who know what.
With all that in mind, if you were to take the females out of the Washington planting you would have a more consistant spear size throughout your planting but the male plants would be lower yielding, have more disease and be less vigorous than the Jersey varieties. The parent plants for the Jersey varieties were selected (from a Mary Washington field) for vigor, spear appearance, yield, and disease resistance. The Washington varieties don't usually have that anymore. They did at one time but as I mentioned all of that has been diluted.
So bottom line.......Jersey varieties have more horsepower in them and even if you went with an all male Martha Washington variety, it wouldn't do as well as the Jersey variety.
Hope all this makes sense. Let me know if you have more questions.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 10:30AM
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I am grateful for the additional information. I've already started the seeds and I know they will not perform as well as the hybrids but that's fine. If they really perform poorly then maybe I'll dig them up. Thanx again Randy and Scott.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 8:08PM
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