Need help planning an asparagus bed

digitaldan1(z7 NJ)August 18, 2010

Hi everyone, I have a small backyard where I've been growing some tomatoes and basil in raised beds. I'm hoping to expand my garden over the next few years and have decided to plant asparagus crowns next spring.

I've ordered 25 crowns and figure I need to create a bed or beds that provides at least 40 feet of growing space while being at least 2 feet wide (please correct me if this sounds ill advised).

Since getting down on my knees is physically difficult (and getting up is even harder) I'm planning on doing this via raised beds (which I prefer anyway since they're so much easier to maintain). I've been trying to read up on asparagus planting here and other sites and am coming to the conclusion that I'll need to still prepare the soil underneath the raised bed area as well. Based on what I've been reading at this site, I'm thinking the best approach would be to cover the existing lawn by putting down a layer of newspaper, wetting it thoroughly and applying a layer of used coffee grounds (thank you Starbucks) and then filling my raised bed with some version of Mel's mix (compost, vermiculite and peat moss).

My questions are:

Will preparing this bed this fall give this plan enough time? (I'm hoping to plant next spring).

Will the wet newspaper and coffee grounds layer do enough, quickly enough to improve the soil underneath the raised bed? If not, should I plan on turning over the lawn, and if so, to what depth? (the raised bed will be about 5" deep on its own). Also, if 5" does not sound like a deep enough raised bed, I can double up to create a depth of 10".

Thanks for any advice or suggestions you can offer. I'm not particularly experienced and I find the information and advice on these forums to be invaluable.

One last thing. I'm using raised beds in part because I'm a big fan of their ease of maintenance, but also because I live in the suburbs and am trying to create a pleasant looking backyard. I have some plans for decorative elements such as a park bench and small pond, plus plants designed to attract bees and butterflies. I'd like this garden to be a place to relax as well as produce food.

thanks for all your help (and I'd be happy to return the favor by answering any photography related questions anyone might have).


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What kind of soil do you have (sand, silt or clay), how is the organic matter content, and how deep is your topsoil? You probably found out asparagus likes a very deep and loose soil - I've heard up to a foot or two of sandy loam is the best but I'm no asparagus expert either. Raised beds will be great if you put the right soil in them. But the best way to evaluate your plan is to know what's underneath already.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 4:36PM
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My advise would be to double the # of crowns & then plan to harvest 1/2 in the spring... & in summer cut the other 1/2 down to 6" then harvest a second crop late summer-fall

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 6:31PM
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digitaldan1(z7 NJ)

As far as I can tell, it runs toward the sandy. The area I'm planning on using is currently lawn and has been for the 15 years we've lived here. I would not describe the soil as being particularly noteworthy (which is another reason for using raised beds since I can get a better growing medium that way than by turning over the lawn. I'll turn over a small section tomorrow and try to provide a better description. I doubt there's much in the way of OM since I haven't done anything to improve it over the years. (Haven't fertilized in any way.)

I'm afraid 25 crowns is the most I have room for, so doubling the number isn't practical as much as I love asparagus.

Thanks for the comments!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 8:36PM
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digitaldan1(z7 NJ)

Okay. It appears the top six inches is sandy and after that it becomes clay. Coloring appears to be that light reddish brown rather than the wonderful black loam we'd all prefer.

Just happens that the local gas company is digging up part of my lawn to install new pipes and the crew said they'd be willing to start a trench for me, so I'm going to get them to go down a foot and a couple of feet wide and look at filling the trench and building a raised bed.

The plan would be to use a mix of peat moss, vermiculite and compost (and maybe some bagged cow manure). Does this sound good?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 11:01AM
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jollyrd(Richmond VA)

We have asparagus bed - second season, first reasonable harvest this season. Raised bed. I would say give them a foot of loose soil below the crown level, and a foot or two above crown level. CROWN - not ground. Why? One thing I noticed and read somewhere is that the crowns actually tend to push UP over the years - maybe if they find the 'hard' soild below, the decide to find more space above? And once your bed is established, you dont want to disturb the crowns, and you can only go so far deep into your soil at the start. I dont know the scientific expanation. But with that in mind, make sure your raised bed is tall enough (above ground and above the line of the crowns) so that you can add soil as needed - to keep the crowns well covered. I had to add a run of logs on top of my raised bed this spring, and added some soil in spring. I plan to cover the crowns with compost early fall - works as a fertilizer too - which is what they need in fall and early spring.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 1:19PM
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chinamigarden(z5 MI)

If you are making raised beds, are you going to use your own soil to fill them, or have soil delivered? A friend of mine made 12 inch raised beds.He loosened the native soil, tilled in some amendments. Then put the frame in place, he filled them part way, laid out the crowns and put a couple of inches of soil on them. When the spears started he kept laying another inch or 2 of soil until his beds were completely filled in.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 1:34PM
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digitaldan1(z7 NJ)

Thanks for the advice!

First off, I'm trying to come up with the best growing medium I can. What I'm thinking of doing is screening the soil that was dug up (not horribly rocky, but there were some big ones) and then mix some of that with the amendments mentioned earlier. Lots of compost (both bagged and homemade) peat moss, vermiculite and perhaps a few bags of the miracle grow organic soil mix. I've been scrounging used coffee grounds from Starbucks for my compost and plan on mixing in some in this bed. What I'll probably do is every six inches or so of growing medium, put a layer of coffee grounds.

I'm planning on using landscape timbers for the raised bed. I figure to start with a bed that's two timbers tall with the ability to increase the height as needed. If I follow jollyrd's advice (which I probably will) that means planting the crowns at ground level (since the backhoe dug a foot down) and then planning on building the raised bed at least a foot deep too (probably at least three timbers).

I'm fully planning on adding layers of compost as time goes along too.

Thanks for your advice!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 3:38PM
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Hi Dan,

I dug through my computer history and found the page I loved so much about asparagus roots. I've switched from gardening my veggies next door in the sun to only my own yard recently, so have been useing my beloved computer.

Let's start with .. remember asparagus gets REALLY tall. The ferns come up to my shoulder height and are so beautiful I'm thinking about useing my new planting as a background for a perennial bed this time 'round. Maybe. So be sure your spot is not going to shade anything that wants sun.

I'm wondering about your soil too. The newer , popular varieties , all male, start with the word Jersey ! So maybe your in the most perfect spot ever to grow this ? Jersey Giant, and the other two I forget, but they both start with Jersey.

Asparagus wants alkaline soil, so here in my slightly acid soil, it's the only thing I use dolomite lime for. I would definitely skip the peat moss.. super acid.

Vermiculite : I'm not a big fan. Pick up a piece and squish it between your fingers. No rebound. It's just lays there flat as a pancake. Vermiculite retains moisture nicely, so it's a good addition to a seed starting tray, but other than that, it's always seemed like money for physiological gain only.

What you want is fiber. Your compost is perfect. When I need more, I tend to use fine pumice..but what with those roots going two feet the first year and a total of ten feet later, I'm not too sure they need that sort of help. ;)

They are heavy feeders.. so well aged manure fits the menu.

I do use on occasion a mix a local fuel company sells, of our city yard compost and mushroom compost. It's such nice stuff ! There are those that will not use any city compost due to residents use of lawn ferts and such, but with my mix it's so dilute and I got to thinking my own tree leaves..and I have too many.. are filled with car pollution. Uck.. but it's the best I've got. Balancing out all the pollutants I do avoid, and those I can't ... I have tossed some of this around veggies now and then. Mostly when I'm short of the home made stuff. Mushroom compost is pre-limed BTW.

Maybe go to a local specialty nursery and see what they recommend for your area? This time of year they really need the business and have time to help with questions like this. Mid-week is best. Your county extension service might also be a good source, and easy to Google.

Looking forward to learning all about Jersey asparagus.

Here is a link that might be useful: asparagus roots, ten feet down !

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 5:28PM
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I've read that Asparagus absorbs the arsonic in pressure treated landscape timbers.. is this true ?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 7:19PM
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Don't use pressure treated wood. Untreated cedar is best and there's lots of posts and information on the web about it.

Also if you have clay, the worst thing you can do is have those workers dig down into it for you. You'll get a big bathtub that won't drain. I recently dug a hole in my clay soil as an experiment, waited until it rained, and then found out it takes almost 24 hours for the "bathtub" to drain completely! You may want to try the same experiment before you proceed.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 7:39PM
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sandhill_farms(10 NV)

Asparagus is commercially grown in the mild cool climates of Michigan, Wisonsin, "New Jersey," Washington Oregon and California. Surprisingly enough it also thrives in my area of Southern Nevada as well. You should buy 1-2 year old "male" roots of Jersey King or Jersey Knight which shoudn't be a problem for you. You should dig a trench or furrow 10-14 inches deep and at least a foot deep as well as wide. The soil should be a sandy loam. The roots initially should be covered by 2-4 inches of soil and as the plants grow the trench or furrow should be back-filled with additional soil. Water is best provided by a drip hose system. In the fall or early winter the yellowing ferns should be cut, removed and the bed cleaned-up. You should be able to harvest spears a year after you plant your asparagus roots.

Southern Nevada

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 10:33PM
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I agree with most of what sandhill farms said, I was told not to harvest until the 2nd year.
nutsaboutflowers is incorrect, you can break up the bottom pan & not make any more of a tub then you have now.
However, if you are not going to dig down 3 feet & mix the clay with 50% sand & humus, then it is best to drill holes with post hole digger. Then fill the bottom 36 inches with sand or gravel, then the rest with compost. The hole should be at least 48-60 inches & 60 inches apart to have good drainage. To know more about this, search "dry wells".

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 11:55PM
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I know this is an old thread,but if anyone new comes upon it and wants to know how to plant Asparagus "square foot style" watch the five or six video's I made ,showing it step by step.

Here is a link that might be useful: French Intensive/BioDynamic Asparagus

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 12:33AM
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leira(6 MA)

Having read this thread, I'm now feeling quite discouraged. The best place in my yard for an asparagus bed is in a high-shale area, and while I might manage to dig down a foot or so (based on past experience, this is really slow going), I don't think I can create the sort of deep bed that would cause asparagus to thrive.

I live in the city, and my yard isn't very big, so the options are limited. The only other possibility is along a fence that has Norway-Maple-infested privet hedges on the other side, and I assume that it's a poor choice to leave the asparagus roots competing with privets and maples.

One more garden dream, down the tubes!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 7:16AM
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Maybe not, leira, jon link looked good to me. Raised bed can do wonders for Asparagus.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 12:39PM
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leira Never say die,
There are more ways than one to skin a cat...
Start small,and if that investment pans out,slowly but surely increase your bed until you reach your goal.
Find a large container,something (bought or scavenged) that you can cut the bottom off of and plant the Asparagus 1' O/C and see how that does , if you succeed you can always add more, if if doesn't work, it could be a bed for carrots or ??? and there is no down side here , start small, experiment and have fun with it.
I went out this morning a made a video for you, to show you the steps I take to make a quick "raised bed" ,I like contained raised beds, because whatever I feed them ,is "contained" and I lose nothing. It simply gets better and better with time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Preparing a Planting Bed

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 2:57PM
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