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Urban Farmer: Garden may be sleeping . . .but it’s up to something, and so is any gardener these days

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

To all appearances, the garden is asleep. It’s been tilled. The straw and newspaper I like to use as a mulch is blending with the quiet nutrients, moisture, worms and other little beings. Serious work is being done and I can’t see or hear a thing. With a little effort up front on my end, the garden is refreshing itself for another year of planting.

Off to the side, I have a couple of compost piles which will be turned and added when they are ready; most likely in the Spring. Halloween’s pumpkins, gourds, kitchen waste, leftover plants (undiseased!); all find their highest and best use headed towards my garden.

 Asparagus bed before spring growth

Asparagus bed before spring growth

My garlic is planted. There have been no vampire sitings in my back yard for at least 15 years. Now blood is a great source of nitrogen, but I’d have to slay the vampire. Too messy.

The asparagus patch has been weeded and fertilized. More on this to follow.

I like to take a little reprieve from the garden and enjoy being inside. It is a time to take stock and think. The garden outside is doing its quiet work, and I must be inside to do mine.

Planning the next gardening year is pleasant quiet work. It all goes on in my head. I read and try to understand more about soil science. I remember plants that looked interesting to me. I recall things that my fellow gardening friends did this past season. I check notes that I had presence of mind to record. These are few and far between, unfortunately (there’s that road to hell, again). I recall my successes. And, most importantly, I remember my blunders.

I was pretty lucky this past year. I only had one blunder, and I forgive myself for it. It was my second year raising Brussel Sprouts. I started them from seed, and when I transferred them to the garden, I used some old wire tomato cages for support. I felt that these would be completely adequate. Nope, they weren’t.

My Brussel Sprouts grew to be about five feet tall! I couldn’t believe it! They did not get nearly that big the year before. So, later in the season, when a pretty good wind kicked up, they all just fell over and took the cages with them. Aggravating.

Since I have had some practice with this sort of catastrophe (a fully loaded pole bean tower hitting the ground), I took it in stride and tried to prop them up in some sort of bastard fashion. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked OK. I still got a pretty nice harvest off of that mess. I forgive me.

After mulling over Garden 2015 in all its scope and making decisions on moving forward, the most important project presented itself. This is a big one. My sense of mortality has even been offended. I can’t possibly be old enough to need to do this.

Asparagus crowns packaged for sale

Asparagus crowns packaged for sale

My asparagus patch is ending its productive life and it’s time to get another started.

Actually, it’s past time.

A new asparagus patch takes two or three years to get established to the point that you can pillage it with abandon. My old patch, which I estimate at roughly twelve years of age, is on its way out and the race is on.

Will the new patch get going before the old one fizzles? God, I hope so. If it doesn’t, that will be my punishment for being so unobservant. Actually, I wasn’t unobservant. I did notice that my yields the last couple of years were getting a little wan and puny. I thought perhaps I need to fertilize more, or maybe my garden wasn’t draining as well as it should (asparagus needs to be in well-drained dirt).

Now, my somewhat unenthusiastic fertilizing regimen at times, no doubt contributed to this approaching demise (particularly when I was a callow, younger gardener). And clearly, after this past monsoon season on Russell Street, I definitely discovered drainage was not a liability, so that shouldn’t have been a factor.

Variety of asparagus also may have a been a reason. I can’t find my paperwork for the current bed’s original plant order, so, who knows what it was? I do know, however, that quite a portion of my patch was seeded by female plants. Female plants produce little red berries later in the season. They do not have the hardiness and longevity of all-male varieties, apparently. No comment.

All of these little cues, plusses and minuses, rolled around in my brain. Two plus two wasn’t coming up. What was wrong? Why is my asparagus behaving like a row of Nineteenth Century consumptive poets; barely able to keep their heads up? I want to see robust Amazonian assertiveness! I want to see those spears stabbing the air!

Well, I had to start reading. And, of course, the answer came forward pretty quickly. My patch was dying of old age.

I could have figured this out a couple of years ago, but I was in denial. I could be two years into the maturation of the new patch by this time. But, no, not me. I had to do it my way.

I am glad I had this eureka moment now, albeit two years too late. It being December, I have plenty of time to decide how I’m going to get this patch started. The nice thing about a second round on an asparagus patch (my clouds all have silver linings) is that now, this one will be much better.

Asparagus spears from last year's garden

Asparagus spears from last year’s garden

I will be moving it to a more suitable spot in my yard. My north border bed is available for this. All I have to do is move a few perennials. No longer will the asparagus bed cut an inconvenient swath right through the center of my main garden (garden expansion caused this unfortunate setup). Tilling will be easier and the asparagus roots won’t suffer the indignities of that assault on their well-being. I’m pretty careful with the tiller, but sometimes I have throw-back impulses. I conjure up behavior reminiscent of that clueless sixteen year-old girl that for some reason had an uneasy relationship with a clutch. You can imagine.

I’ll get the dirt prepared in a much better way this time. I understand a lot more about this aspect than I did before. I am really going to go at it, pH and all.

I will choose an all-male variety of asparagus, and I will start it from seed myself. I have discovered that my own seedlings really are superior to plants that I purchase. Now, this is not a slam towards any of our stellar local greenhouses. They do a spectacular job. But, I find that the more skin (sometimes literally) I have in the game, the more attentive I am to the whole process. This will delay the maturation of the asparagus, but I’m willing to take that chance. I believe it’s worth it.

And then there’s this issue — this patch had better last a good long time because the next time I have to do this, I’ll be older than the dirt that I dig in. Who will go first? Me or the asparagus? Well, I intend to make it to one hundred, so I guess I’ll have to do this at least one more time after this next patch.

When Spring gets here, I’ll be getting down to the business of selecting my variety and getting the ball rolling on Asparagus Bed 2016.

At that point, make sure you check back. I’ll give you dirt…..all of it.


Ginger Dawson, the Intrepid Urban Farmer, has lived in Covington since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed an eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it. Being a serial entrepreneur, Ginger has been engaged in many successful projects over the years: real estate, retail, antiques, art, etc…with gardening always being the constant. And now, she writes about it. She is a graduate of Miami University and The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. Email:intrepidurbanfarmer@fuse.net

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