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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Project Asparagus after one year, up and downs — and plenty of life lessons

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

It’s the end of year one of Project Asparagus.  About one year ago today, I was in the midst of nursing a whole slew of little asparagus plants that I had started from seed. I was invested in this project.  I monitored each little one and fretted over the runts. These unemotional, undemonstrative little beings were like children to me, but my concern and care was met with complete disinterest.  Ingrates!  Having had cats for many years, I was hardened to this callous treatment.

These are the ones bent on bed domination.

Fifty-one seeds had yielded forty-two little plants.  Since I had space for only twenty-four of my little charges, I had plenty to share with my neighbors and family members.  I hesitantly, and with great trepidation, let them go.  I have heard that most of these orphaned children met with sad ends.  A few were inadvertently buried under concrete and a few died of neglect.  Crushing.  I had done this to them.    

The lucky ones that I had chosen to keep were planted in the raised bed I had carefully and meticulously prepared for them.  Dare I even say it was done “with love”?  I think not.  That’s a bit much.

I even added more dirt and an insulating layer of newspaper and straw, pulled up around their little chins (or tendrils, or whatever) to shield them from the hoary winter winds.  I wanted to do everything I could to assure their coddled success—knowing, full-well, that they just didn’t care.  And there are people who say I don’t have a STREAK of maternal instinct.

All said, I think year one of Project Asparagus ended up pretty well.

In early spring this year, the one year-old plants started to show themselves.  I relentlessly watched these little starts as they emerged.  I was obsessed by this. Just like human beings, each one has its own pace.  On one end of the bed, we have the over-achievers, bent on bed domination.  On the other end, a few are holding their own, gaining ground daily.  There are also a few listless, little starts trying to get a foot-hold, and four who just couldn’t cut the mustard, or hollandaise, at all.  Four dead.  Not bad.

One year crowns

It took awhile to accept the fact that four had croaked.  I kept thinking that sooner or later I would see a rally.  It didn’t happen. This is a sad thing—for the asparagus, I mean.  Well, me too.  Aesthetically, the bed is challenged.  There are gaps.  This bothers me.  My garden has to look a certain way, though I couldn’t exactly tell you WHAT way.   As I’ve said before, I’m no Martha Stewart, but the look of things is important to me.  I guess my aesthetic sensibility for gardening can be compared to Porno—I know it when I see it.

I needed to fill those vacancies with more asparagus.  Just like infill housing in a historic district, I had to find something that was new, yet visually agreeable and within the guidelines.  

The variety of asparagus I had started from seed is an all-male one called Jersey Knight Hybrid.  I wanted to find the same thing, of course, to fill in the gaps.  Asparagus generally takes two years to mature before harvesting.  This is if you go the more typical route of planting one year crowns.  Because I had started this batch from seed, an additional year is needed for them to mature.  This three-year timeline has provided me with the serendipitous situation of being able to infill with one-year crowns and have the whole patch mature at the same time! I never have anything this good happen to me.

I cannot believe this has only been in the ground for three days! Hmm.

I searched my catalogues for Jersey Knight Hybrid crowns, but none were to be found. Any similar variety would be fine.  Generally minimum orders are twenty-five crowns, but I didn’t need that many.  Luckily, I found one catalogue that would sell an order of ten crowns in an all-male variety called “Millennium”.

The description of this variety satisfied my guidelines for infill.  I placed the order.  

When it came in, I immediately got it into the ground to fill the vacancies.  It’s only been a few days, and the new crowns are already looking good.  Actually, they look happier than the rest of my patch.  Hmm.  This is a circumstance that has a backhand.  Should I have just started with one-year crowns to begin with?  It’s too late for that regret now.  

Gardening is always full of life lessons, and I seem to have a special relationship with asparagus.  By association, I can go from feeling that I have had something really good happen to me, to a seemingly positive signal try to take me south with regret.  And the thing is, the asparagus just doesn’t care at all.

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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