The Great Asparagus Experiment

Okay, maybe it’s not going to be that “great.” And maybe it’s not soooo experimental. I mean, other people have grown asparagus from seed. But the “normal” way to start an asparagus bed is to buy crowns: the roots of one- or two-year-old plants. Starting a bed with nothing more than a packet of seeds feels like thumbing my nose at fifty years of garden center progress. Surely starting a delicious perennial crop like asparagus–one that promises to reward our family with armloads of new shoots spring after early spring–can’t be as easy as planting a few seeds the size of peppercorns! There must be a catch. Something is bound to go wrong. That is why I hereby dub this undertaking the “Great Asparagus Experiment.”

So why try this alternative method, when obviously everyone else plants asparagus crowns? Because it’s cheaper, of course. The cheapest place I’ve found to buy asparagus crowns is Gurney’s, and they charge $9.99 for 10 one-year-old medium-grade crowns of their cheapest variety. The ounce of seeds I bought looks like it contains about 300. And it cost $4.95 from neseed. Which means that if I planted every one of them this year, even accounting for the half that would turn out to be female and need to be removed from the bed, by next spring I would have multiplied the value of my investment by 30. That’s a 3000% return. Not bad. Of course, I’m not going to plant all the seeds. I’m only going to plant 30. But that’s still a 300% return on investment. And I’ll also have the joy of giving away surplus asparagus seed to anyone who wants it! (Katy, that means you!)

I did my (admittedly brief) research on asparagus varieties last weekend and decided I was going to go with the heirloom variety Mary Washington. I’m a sucker for heirlooms (especially when they’re named for mothers of presidents). Something about their having stood the test of time. And the fact that they obviously knew how to grow in the days before synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Plus they’re open-pollinated, which means that if I did one day decide to allow some female plants in my asparagus bed, they would produce viable seed, and I could start the whole process over again!

Another “experimental” aspect of my asparagus growing is the fact that I’m starting the seeds indoors. I’ve read that a lot of people direct seed asparagus after the last spring frost. This seems like the most labor-saving option and would be perfect for people who don’t have the time (or interest) to watch over trays of seedlings. However, I’ve also read that starting the seeds indoors a couple of months before the last frost will greatly hasten the day when you can cut your first harvest. So I’m trying it.

The first step, accomplished yesterday, was embarrassingly easy. I dampened a couple of paper towels (placed one on top of the other), spread my thirty seeds out on half the surface, folded over the other half, and sealed it all in a (recycled!) Ziploc bag. Now the seeds are sitting in a warm place, where they should germinate over the next two weeks or so.

By the way, here was my method for determining the number of seeds I wanted to start: The finished bed is going to be 4 feet wide. I’m going to plant one row of plants down the middle, 6″ apart. Once I thin out the females at season’s end, when the red seed balls appear, that should leave on average one plant every 12″, which I’ve read is a good distance for mature plants. So I just took the length of the bed I wanted–12 feet–multiplied it by 2, and then added a few extra seeds in case some don’t germinate.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll scrounge up a couple dozen 3-1/2″ pots, and, as long as disaster doesn’t strike, by the end of the month, the sprouts should be ready for potting up. Keep your fingers crossed for the Great Asparagus Experiment!


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    Okay, I have been wondering about growing asparagus from seed! How many seasons does it take to get actual asparagus?

    1. Sharon says:

      From what I’ve read, you might get a few edible spears in one year. (The rule is apparently that you can harvest anything over 3/8″ in diameter.) But you get your first real harvest in two years. It seems like a long time, but even if you plant crowns, you have to wait at least a year.

  2. Looking forward to seeing how they turn out. Good luck!

  3. Betty says:

    Greetings from across the creek! Mrs. Short shared your blog with me this evening- I’m interested to see how your experiment turns out. I’ve never had any experience with growing asparagus from seed, but it does sound like a thrifty alternative to crowns. Scott and Jenny are going to be gardening here this summer and keeping bees- maybe some of them will find their way to your garden. 🙂

    1. Sharon says:

      Hello there! Glad to have another neighbor reading! I do hope the bees make it this far. I’m going to be planting some extra flowers in the vegetable garden this year. Hopefully that will make the trip worth their while. 🙂

  4. Hi Sharon, I just thought I’d let you know, I grew asparagus from seed – because I could. One of my plants was a female and the red seed pods were to tempting not to try. I ended up growing quite a few and were able to share with friends. This spring coming (Sept in NZ) will be the first year I’ll be able to eat every spear that comes up and its such a long awaited milestone. One thing I will suggest from what I can remember is to transplant the seedlings very carefully into deep pots because the roots shoot down first and go quite deep before the tops come up. I was advised of this before I started and so grew them straight into potting mix and left them there for a really long time – months! Good luck and I hope it works out for you. Cheers Sarah : o )

    1. Sharon says:

      Thanks for this tip! There’s so little information out there about starting asparagus from seed (and what I have found is generally about direct seeding). I had read that asparagus spreads a lot laterally, so hadn’t thought too much about deep tap roots. Now I know! Thanks!

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