Hunting Asparagus in the Wild

Asparagus is easier to spot in late summer when its tall ferny stalks turn a brilliant canary yellow. However, asparagus can be very hard to spot in the spring when the young shoots start popping out of the ground and I find that those lucky enough to have found a patch are very reluctant to divulge the exact location. From what I have been able to gather the best place to look for asparagus in our area is in sunny moist areas along the river, on irrigation ditch banks, on road sides and at the edges of farm fields. If wild asparagusyou are lucky enough to find asparagus to harvest, it is best to cut the spears at ground level and to leave a few stalks so the plant will remain healthy and spread a few seeds. It is also interesting that the asparagus plants we find in the wild are not native plants but are cultivars that have escaped from peoples’ gardens. Another tip that I found online was that the best time to search for asparagus spears was in coordination with the time lilacs bloom.

By Elaine Allard

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~ JUST WAITING ~ Picking Asparagus

After what seems like a very long winter, I get that anxious feeling waiting for tender green asparagus tips to peek through warm, dark soil. The garden is quiet except for the rhubarb trying to unfold and the asparagus pushing .

How many times have you thought of growing asparagus and put it off? You could be picking it already, but you thought a 3 year wait was too long. Considering that the plant can live for 25 years with little assistance and that you have already put it off 2 years, maybe not.

Asparagus can be started by seed or by root. It is dioecious, that is plants carry reproductive parts of the male and female. In the 80’s all male (Jersey) varieties were introduced to dominate the female (Washington) varieties. Female plants spend part of their season producing fruit (red berries) whereas male plants produce larger, longer, and bigger yields. Sources differ on which gender produces the larger and most spears.

Asparagus beds can last for decades with no need for tedious transplanting. All they need is a well prepared bed (think 25 years, 5-6 feet deep and almost as wide), full sun, well-drained soil, and a soil test for NPK nutrients and PH (as close to neutral 7 is best).

You can plant asparagus in the garden, raised beds or flower beds as long as they are not shaded. Actually, in the garden they can be used to shade some of the shade lovers like lettuce. Keep weeds at bay and pull those dandelions when small. Remember half of your asparagus supply is below the surface. In the spring rake off any leaves and debris.

Be aware that an asparagus spotted beetle has a reddish body with dark spots. The common asparagus beetle has a dull, blue-black body with six orange-yellow spots. asparagus beetle 1Both larvae are a white caterpillar about ½ inch long. Long black eggs are laid in a row. Both adult and larvae feed on developed plantsasparagus beetle 2 and can cause crooked shoots. Remove leaves and weeds from around the bed to keep hibernating spots to a minimum. Beetles can be hand-picked early in the morning when it is tooasparagus beetle eggs cool to fly.

Harvest [asparagus] by cutting or snapping spears when 5-10”tall, cutting at ground level or before the heads start to open. Take care not to injure buds below. Spears can grow 10” in a day in an ideal crown. The first picking season, usually season two, pick only a few. The second year pick for about 4 weeks, the third year about 6 weeks and after that time you can pick for about 8 weeks. There is no real limit to the number of spears cut. It depends on the health of the plant. Be aware of space, moisture, and nutrients. After the cutting season, mulch with non-acidic materials.

In the fall, leave all the foliage (like bulbs they need the foliage to feed the roots) until it has dried to soil level, then CUT off and put down the second fertilizer of 10-10-10. Your soil sample will determine if you need bone meal, wood ash, green sand, cotton seed meal, rock phosphate or dolomite lime.

Are you ready to try growing asparagus? Or will you wait again?

For more information- https://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-asparagus/
https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-asparagus/7343.html
http://labs.russell.wisc.edu/vegento/pests/asparagus-beetle/

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Holiday Cactus (Christmas | Thanksgiving | Easter)

When ‘Christmas cactus’ was suggested as the plant for this newsletter, I thought, “I‘ve got this!” I already grow and am familiar with both the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus so I felt comfortable with the topic. I am aware of the third type, the Easter cactus, but have never grown one. Even with the logic of the different blooming seasons coinciding with the name of the holiday cacti it was interesting to find that there are other ways to tell them apart too! All of the holiday cacti originate from the tropics of South America, where they can be found naturally growing on trees. Given this, they all share another common name – ‘jungle cacti.’

Most of them are epiphytic, growing high in trees, and have no spines. They have flat, jointed leaves that grow in chains one to two feet long. The flowers range in color from white through rose, red, lavender, and purple.

When purchasing a new cactus, go by the botanical name instead of the common one. Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera xbuckleyi. A Thanksgiving cactus is Schlumbergera truncate and an Easter cactus, also known as a spring cactus, is Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri or Hatiora gaetneri.

Of course the easiest way to determine the species is the blooming season. Easter cacti bloom in spring, starting to reveal flower buds in February and flowering from March through May. Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti bloom in late fall or winter, with Thanksgiving varieties typically blooming a month earlier than the Christmas ones.

Besides varying bloom seasons, another way to separate the holiday cacti is by studying the edges of their leaf segments. The Christmas cacti have smooth, round edges and Thanksgiving cacti have pointy, jagged ones; Easter cacti are known for the bristles that can be found on the edges of their leaf segments. The flowers of the spring variety also seem to be more star-shaped in their form, but have the radiant shades of colors typically found in all three species: reds, pinks and purples, with some cultivars showcasing a pure white flower.

Each holiday species typically has the same growing conditions: shorter days (eight hours) and cold nights (55°F) for flowering . One thing to consider, especially with the Easter cacti, is how much water they need. Easter species seem to be especially sensitive to over-watering. They all need filtered to bright light and organic soil with good drainage. Keep the plants evenly moist while they are actively growing, and drench and let dry during their resting period. If the soil gets too dry, the end joints drop off; if it gets too wet, the plant will rot.

Enjoy trying all three – I know I plan to add Easter cactus to my household!

Submitted by Tracy L. Livingston

 

What’s Blooming at My House – ‘Blue Bahama’ Passion Flower

Exotic passion flowers look as though they would be tropical plants, but they can actually be grown almost anywhere, including much milder areas. You may even find these delicate vines growing along the side of the road. In fact, some passion flowers species are becoming invasive in warmer climates.

The genus Passiflora contains over 400 species, so the common name Passion Flower can be a bit confusing.

To muddle matters further, most are vines, but some are shrubs, annuals, perennials and even trees and some also produce edible fruits. What they all share are exotic flowers that only remain open for about one day.Passion 2

Submitted by Tracy L. Livingston

 

Just What is Plant Select and What is Happening at Zoo Montana?

Plant Select is the country’s leading brand of plants designed to thrive in high plains and inter-mountain regions, offering plants that provide more beauty with less work so gardeners of all levels can achieve smart, stunning, and successful gardens using fewer resources and with a more positive environmental impact.

Driven by the belief that the right plants in the right place matter and that cultivating plants in tougher growing environments requires smarter approaches, Plant Select leverages a uniquely collaborative model and highly selective cultivation process to find, test, and distribute plants that thrive on less water.

Plant Select’s goal is to create smart plant choices for a new American landscape inspired by the Rocky Mountain region. Plant Select is a nonprofit combining forces of Colorado State University and Denver Botanical Gardens. I (Teresa Miller Bessette) applied to Plant Select for the gardens at Zoo MT to become a test site. Sharon Wetsch and I drove to Fort Collins in August and received plant material. A new site was cut and the plants were planted. There will be meetings and more plant material in the spring!

Submitted by Teresa Miller Bessette

On Thursday March 15th from 4- 5:00 PM in the Community Room at the Billings Library, Master Gardener Teresa Bessette will be giving a presentation on the gardening activities that are going on at ZooMontana’s Botanical Garden. Make plans to attend to hear more about how the Zoo qualified as a test site for Plant Select and what it involves.

 

The Power of Seeds | How to Grow Broccoli Sprouts

We all know how wonderful micro greens are for our health and how they were all the rage in the culinary world the past few years. Some of us grew micro greens and others bought them at the store. There have been fewer micro greens in stores and more sprouts in their place.

Yes I said sprouts! They have made a comeback – they are off the side-lines and can be found in most produce sections. This time around broccoli sprouts are the most popular as they have incredible health benefits. Before I share how great they are with you I want to give you a little bad and some good news. The bad news is broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli and the good news is that broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli.

All kidding aside, broccoli sprouts are easy to grow and just 3 ounces of sprouts have 10-100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. Sulforaphane is an anti-cancer compound found in cruciferous vegetables that helps to fight against cancer. Broccoli sprouts are rich in vitamins K, C, B6, E, and folate, dietary fiber phosphorus, potassium, and mag-nesium. They also help the heart, respiratory, immune systems and aid in digestion.

Although they are good for most of us, no more than 2 cups a day is recommended. I caution anyone that is not supposed to have cruciferous vegetables to stay away from broccoli sprouts and always consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

All sprouts are quick and easy to grow and require minimal equipment and time.
If you want to test the waters and do not want to invest in a bag of seeds, Montana Harvest has organic broccoli seeds in their bulk spice section for a small amount of money. There is a lot more information on the internet about growing and buying all different types of sprouting seeds. I put sprouts on my omelets with some greens, in my salads, in smoothies and my favorite is in soups. I even feed them to my dogs. If you decide to give growing sprouts a try send us some pictures and let us know what you think at ymastergardener@gmail.com.

Here are a few links for purchasing sprouts online. https://sproutpeople.org/seeds/brassica-sprouts/ Kitazawa carries a lot of Asian seeds that can also be used for sprouting. http://www.kitazawaseed.com/

Submitted by Donna Canino