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


~ 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-

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Book Review – ‘What A Plant Knows’ by Daniel Chamovitz

Humans use their senses to get information about the world around them. We use this information, in part, to decide what actions to take. Our five main senses are sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Do plants have similar senses?

In What A Plant Knows, Israeli botanist Daniel Chamovitz compares human senses with equivalent senses in plants. In each chapter, he describes a human sense, then explains whether plants have a similar ability to perceive the world around them. Plants do have senses similar to humans with one exception (hearing), because plants also need to gather information from the world and then act on this information.

For example, plants can “see,” i.e. perceive light, as we can tell when plants grow towards a light source. It is vital that plants perceive light because, for plants, light equals food. For each sense, the author explains how the sense is exhibited in a plant and also the historical development of our understanding of the ability, including clear, brief descriptions of elegant experiments. For example, for the perception of light with concurrent growth towards the light source (phototropism), Darwin hypothesized that light was perceived at the tip of a seedling so he performed the following test: one shoot was allowed to grow normally, bending toward the light; the next had the tip cut off and did not bend; the third had a dark cap on the tip and did not bend; the fourth had a glass cap on the tip and did bend; and the fifth had a band around the stem and not the tip and did bend toward the light.

In addition to the five human senses, there are chapters on how plants know where they are in space (perception of gravity) and what and how a plant remembers.

This fascinating book is so readable it’s like reading a novel or a mystery—you get caught up in wanting to know the answers and find it hard to put down. When you’ve finished this little book, you’ll have a better understanding of how plants live, function and perceive their environment, and you will also probably treat plants with more respect and appreciation for their abilities. You will find that you have more in common with plants than you might previously have thought and you will appreciate the interconnectedness of all living things. Having a better understanding of plants and how they live may also result in better care of the plants in our gardens and landscapes, as we understand their needs better.

Submitted by Ann Guthals


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HERE’S THE DIRT: Getting to the Bottom of Blossom End Rot

It is always disappointing to see a tomato, squash, pepper, watermelon or an eggplant get blossom end rot (BER). It is not the end of the plant, though, just the fruit. We typically think a lack of calcium in the soil is the main reason our plants get blossom end rot and the truth is that most soil has adequate calcium especially if it is the soil that you have been growing plants in previously.

To sum up blossom end rot, it is a disorder of growing fruit that causes the fruit’s cells at the blossom end of the fruit to die. So what does this really mean? If a plant has inconsistent watering that is too wet or dry this will affect how the plant will receive calcium and that imbalance can result in blossom end rot. Other causes of why a plant may experience BER are over fertilizing with nitrogen which can promote leaf growth and deplete part of the plant in receiving calcium as the water will carry the calcium towards the new leaf growth and damage to small feeder roots can also affect how the plant takes in water affecting the calcium and contributing to BER.

Some ways to resolve BER once it happens in your garden is to remove the affected fruit and monitor your watering schedule and if the problem persists you should have your soil tested and/or you may consider planting a different variety of that plant in the future. Many times we hear of garden myths like adding tums or Epsom salts as a sure fire way to resolve the issue but they are just that, myths and people probably do see some results because they are watering and paying more attention to the care of that plant. So the big take away here is that water is a key factor in resolving blossom end rot.

Submitted by Donna Canino

Other reading:



The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health By David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

David Montgomery and Anne Bikle bought a modest house in Seattle. They discovered that the glaciers that passed through that part of the world long ago left them with very little topsoil in their backyard. They began dumping a lot of organic matter in their space and creating a manure tea to feed their plants. After a few years, they had soil and lush foliage to show for their efforts.

David is a geologist, used to thinking in geological time. It surprised him that by actively adding organic matter to the soil, he and Anne could actually speed up the rate of soil creation relative to nature’s timeframe. They both began to wonder how this could be and this led them to discovering the hidden world of soil microbes and their relationship to plants.

Of particular interest to gardeners is the first part of the book that so clearly explains in an accessible manner the interactions between the microbes in the soil (primarily bacteria, protists, and fungi) and plants. Research over the last 10 to 20 years has illuminated the incredible partnerships between beasties we can’t even see and plant roots, resulting in a sharing of resources and information in ways not previously dreamed of.

David and Anne make a very strong case for encouraging these relationships by not tilling the soil and adding a lot of mulch. And they illustrate what is lost when the opposite happens – soil is disturbed by tilling and plants are fed chemicals, resulting in basically sterile soil.

When Anne suffered a battle with cancer, the two began to look more closely at what supports human health and drew parallels between a healthy human gut and healthy soil, in that there is much more communication between the microbes in our guts and our immune system than we had imagined and keeping this inner microbiome healthy is very important to our overall health, as is supporting healthy soils.

Along the way they describe how microbes were discovered and how for a long time were seen only as enemies, aka disease-producers. So our first knowledge and awareness of microbes was in a battle against pathogens. There follows a long section on what the good microbes in our gut do and how to encourage them. While the center section is long and detailed, it is important in that it makes a case that the vast majority of microbes are beneficial and we need to cultivate them.

Page 254: “A couple of decades ago, it would have sounded crazy to argue that plants and microbes in the soil run a biological barter system that functions as a plant‘s defense system and allows us to harvest nutrient-laden plant foods essential to our health. Even more unbelievable would have been the notion that bacteria communicate with our immune system, helping it to precisely mete out inflammation to repel pathogens and recruit helpful commensals. These surprising new truths carry fundamental implications for the way we view, and should treat, a wide range of seemingly unrelated maladies. In medicine, as in agriculture, what we feed our soils—inner and outer—offers a prescription for health forged on the anvil of geologic time….Put bluntly, many practices at the heart of modern agriculture and medicine—two arenas of applied science critical to human health and well-being—are simply on the wrong path. We need to learn how to work with rather than against the microbial communities that underpin the health of plants and people.”

One of the best parts of this book is the readability and ease of understanding of complex topics. If you are on a quest to better understand our soils and the importance of cultivating their health, this is a good place to start.

Book Review by Ann Guthals