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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Gardening can be a real (and wet) roller coaster — and then there’s asparagus

Gardening 2016 is in full swing.  I got my seedlings started, transitioned them into larger pots a few days ago, and have started the process of “hardening off” the plants.  All is proceeding in a predictable path.  It’s a little wet, but what’s new about that?

We journeyman gardeners are used to the ugliness that Mother Nature can throw at us.  Three inches of rain dumped in a three day period…… I say, “HA!”  I am not afraid or intimidated by you!  I’ll measure the results of that deluge and then sit back ineffectually and wait.  I AM  IN CONTROL.  I know how much rain fell!  Take THAT Mother Nature!   

Yes, gardening can be a real experience in seizing the roller coaster of human existence.  Stay in control.  Know when to be delusional.  I have mastered this.

The first one to rally!  Three years to go. (Photos by Intrepid Urban Farmer)

The first one to rally! Three years to go. (Photos by Intrepid Urban Farmer)

Fortitude, hard work, integrity, intelligence, honesty.  These are all important virtues; right up there with delusion and inebriation (kidding).  But this year, the horticultural focus is on the most difficult one of all–patience.

You guessed it.  I am talking about asparagus.

This year is the year that I wondered about for along time.  When, in the future, will my current asparagus bed poop-out on me?  I was a young person (comparatively speaking) when I planted this one.  I thought for sure it would last until I entered my dotage.   I wonder no more.  Let it be known that 2016 was the year the asparagus died on Russell St.  I guess the combination of age, an inhumane amount of rain last Summer, and a cold Winter did it in.
Well, I’m not in my dotage yet–not for a long time.  I still have all of my marbles.  It’s probably a good thing it happened when it did.   I have been able to plan a new bed that takes into consideration the shortcomings of the old one.

And, inexplicably, I have taken a path that is more difficult than it needs to be, and will take an extra year.  So much for marbles.  Sometimes the marbles work for you; sometimes the marbles work against you.

I have decided to start my Asparagus patch from seed, rather than the time-honored plan of using one-year crowns.  Crowns are essentially a root system attached to a fledgling asparagus plant.  The little thing actually looks like a little bumpy, baby crown with tentacles attached to it.



But seed it is!  I’ve started the journey and it’s too late to turn back.

I’ve chosen an all-male variety, Jersey Knight Hybrid.  This one has a good disease resistance package and is very hardy in cold winter climates.  It also advertises a long, prolific life.  Female varieties, because they produce seed, don’t seem to last as long.  Kids will do that to you.  Nature is consistent!

I started the seed in my usual manner, using Cow Pots, heat mats and plastic covers.  The seeds were planted 1/4” deep in a good potting soil mix.  And since heat mats cut  germination times quite a bit, the 10-25 days to germinate stated on the package was reduced to just 9 days.  My germination rate was excellent, too.  Out of 51 seeds planted, I got 42 to germinate.  That’s an 82% rate.  I love those heat mats.

After gemination, it was the usual seed starting path.  Growing under the lights, transitioning into larger pots, feeding them with a weak solution of plant food, and moving them to the covered outdoor grow-cart to harden off.

In the meantime, I set about preparing the bed.  I had made the decision to locate it in a different part of my yard several months ago.  I knew the task I had ahead of me.

The area I had chosen was a bed situated along the north side of my back yard.  This spot gets full sun all day.  Perfect.

In this bed, there were a few plants that had to be relocated or done away with.  Some of these were sad farewells.  A small Buckeye tree that I had planted several years back had to go.  This proved to be another adventure in gardening.  I sawed the branches off and left about 4 feet of the narrow trunk standing.  I’m glad I did that.  It gave me some leverage for the rugged task of digging out that stump.

Outside to "harden off"

Outside to “harden off”

This task also lead to the purchase of my first hatchet.  Klingenberg Hardware, my favorite store in Covington, had one.  I purchased it, and it simultaneously triggered the memory of the story of Lizzie Borden to both the sales clerk and myself.    You remember her, right?  “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she have her father 41!”  We had a good laugh reciting that verse together.   

There was another “gentleman” customer at the counter who took to calling me “Lizzie Borden” after our joint recitation.  He got just a little too much joy out of that for my taste.  Lucky man.  I mean really—you shouldn’t call a woman “Lizzie Borden” who is standing right next to you brandishing a hatchet!

I took my hatchet home and made quick work of getting that stump out of the ground.  

I have gotten pretty good at digging out stumps, concrete footers, bricks and large stones.  By this time, I thought I had gotten every large piece of concrete out of my yard.  Of course, I had not.  This project saw me getting one more concrete footer and one more large stone out of the ground.  Over it.

A quick note about Grape Hyacinth:  Do not EVER plant these nasty little things.  I did this probably twenty years ago, and my beds are riddled with the bulbs.  These little monsters are worse than oversexed bunny rabbits.  That’s the lure.  They are cute like bunnies, but they are bent on garden domination.  I’m sure I will be battling these little Triffids for a long time to come. 

I got the bed dug up and the dirt turned.  I amended it with peat moss, composted manure and more top soil.  I worked it in with my trusty scuffle hoe.

I think an inherent weakness with my old dead bed was that it didn’t drain as well as it should have.  This problem existed, probably, for years.  The bed was able to rebound until last year.  Age and monsoon conditions took it out.

In the ground Patience.

In the ground Patience.

In order to try to correct this problem, I decided to mound the dirt into a raised bed.  I piled the dirt up in to a long hill.  I hope this helps.

After I finished making my mini Serpent Mound, I decided to let rain settle it before I planted.  Some rain.  Not three inches in three days.  Needless to say, it is SETTLED.

I planted my asparagus starts about a foot apart.  Each plant was put in the ground about two to three inches deeper than the soil level in the Cow Pots.  This is actually a simpler planting method than the way that one-year crowns are handled.  Crowns are usually set in a dug trench, and as the plants grow, dirt is filled in.

I am hoping that by not stressing the plants by unnecessary handling, I will have a healthier foundation to my bed.  I just have to wait an extra year in order to enjoy any asparagus.

And just as a watched pot never boils, watched Asparagus never grows.  I keep looking at it, and for the life of me, I can’t detect any change.  This is going to be a long three years.

Patience…..yep,I’ve got it…..I think.


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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