Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Hell of Asparagus

So I had to pick the beginning of heat spell to make an opportune purchase of 10 asparagus crowns at the farmers' market.

Then I had to plant them...

... but first I had to decide where to put the asparagus bed.

Oh, did I mention that we've been having a very dry spring so the ground is turning into a brick? Each asparagus crown requires a square foot. They have to be placed 8 inches below the ground surface -- and covered over two inches at time as they grow. That's a lot of shovelling! I'm glad I didn't buy 20 or 30 crowns!

I wandered around with my tape measure in hand, finding plenty of spaces that wouldn't work. I didn't really relish digging up a 2 foot by 10 foot patch of heavy sod (I have heavy sod because we don't water our grass, which forces it to root to about 4" below the surface). Then, aha, the space between the two melon boxes spanned by a trellis and covered with boards that do a mediocre job of stifling the couch grass. I measured it: 36 inches by 60 inches. I took up the boards and on Sunday night I watered the spot so it would be softer to dig.

Monday morning I was out before 7 am. I watered the would-be asparagus patch again and then went on to water everything else that I had planted the night before because Sunday had been the big Ecology Park plant sale and I bought 14 tomato plants, 4 pepper plants, 4 parsley, a wild plum tree, and a blueberry bush and they all had to be planted before the heat got them.

I got out the big garden cart to hold the dirt that I would be layering back into the patch, a spade, a round tip shovel (holds more dirt than the spade and a longer reach for dumping into the cart), and a bin for the couch grass and bindweed roots that would go out as green waste and not into my compost heap. Our local green waste program does high-temperature composting; my humble piles can't reliably cook things such as bindweed and couch grass roots.

The watering I had done softened up the patch nicely (and the boards had hoarded some moisture in the soil as well). It's sandy loamy. I cut the long side of the rectangle between the two boxes with the shovel, then another line a shovel blade length in. I got into a rhythm of cut a scoop, throw it into the big cart, shake dirt off the roots and/or pull them out of the soil, and toss the roots into the bin.

Only two thirds of dirt was removed when the big cart filled up. So I toddled off the get the smaller cart off the shop shed wall. I got the patch dug out and leveled at several inches below the sod root line. How to keep the couch grass and bindweed invading the new patch? I had plastic corrugated board from the box my greenhouse came in two years ago, so I cut lengths of that to line the empty patch (with overlapping ends) and keep out invasive roots.

By then the sweat was pouring off me, the sun was beginning to fully hit the patch area, and it wasn't even 9 in the morning. Should I plant the roots or wait until evening? If I put down the little heaps of compost that the crowns would rest on and I dampened the roots, they should be all right. I filled a bucket with compost and made 10 little mounds. The crowns were in a plastic bag; keeping them in the cellar had kept them from drying out. I put some water over them. I laid out the crowns two at a time and quickly covered them with soil from the smaller cart. The last third of the cart I dumped in the middle of the patch and then smoothed. I soaked it down and covered it over with the melon trellis so the neighborhood cats wouldn't use it as a litter box.

I'll see if I score an asparagus heaven in two years' time!

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