Asparagus Optimism … and Reality.

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First season asparagus from seed with a brick for size comparison. Look close.

Let nature do the work. When it comes to growing food in the self reliance community, adding plenty of perennials is a common strategy. It makes good sense. Having plants and trees that grow food on their own frees you up to attend to the other tasks of growing and EP (emergency preparedness). Many of them also produce an abundance which could be used to sell or barter with if circumstances became truly dire.  There is a great variety of options. You may even have some already without recognizing how valuable they are.

In my case, I have added apple and plum trees with visions of unlimited apple sauce, plum preserves, cider, apple vinegar, apple butter, pie filling, and prunes. These along with the basic fruits should deliver a large variety of healthy food with multiple uses. There are also three elderberry bushes I put in which are working their way towards maturity on the back edge of my property. They will likely act as a beautiful, natural privacy screen. More importantly, they should also yield multipurpose foodstuffs from jellies to a healthy syrup to aid in boosting the immune system. And yes, I even want to try making elderberry wine someday. The ability to produce an alcoholic drink would become an exceedingly valuable skill in a grid down scenario, or even in anther Great Depression. I’m willing to bet it would fetch a premium price in Venezuela right about now.

Along with the fruit trees and elders,  I decided a few years ago to plant a small bed of asparagus. I was encouraged not only that they are perennial, but that they spread. Low maintenance food production that self propagates. That’s a homerun in my book!

In the spirit of this blog, which is grid down gardening, I did not take the easy route. Typically, most growers will buy the “crowns”, or bare root stock that has already been grown, prepared and packaged for resale.  asparagus crown bare root stockMy understanding is that it takes a period of 2-3 years for the plants to reach this level of maturity, and they won’t produce harvest worthy stalks until they are mature enough.  In a true long term crisis, the kind that EP folks prepare for, one would not be able to simply go to the store and buy this industrially provided shortcut.  So, I started mine from scratch. Nothing but seeds, soil and water.

The Mary Washington variety is a common and popular choice. So that is what I ordered. Eventually I hope to learn how to save the seed. But one step at a time. The picture at the top of the page was one of the tiny plants that sprung forth in the first season. This was July 2015. It was a learning experience just waiting for them to get even that big. As this was my first attempt at working with asparagus, I didn’t know what to look for after sowing. Seed packages provide germination timelines, but that’s generalized information.  Each garden has its own ecological life and timeline of its own.

Life is always busy.  Too busy. Believe it or not, I never bothered to spend time researching asparagus online.  I wasn’t sure what the initial shoots would look like. I assumed it would be obvious. In some ways, I think this is a good thing. It trains your eyes to identify and differentiate between desired plants and weeds. I do use one simple cheater though. Sticks are ample, and its little work to use them as indicators. Just push one in next to where you dropped the seeds to aid in recognizing the shoots as they burst through. And even that might not help depending on your eyesight. My plants were almost 2 inches tall before I first noticed them. In fact, I had just about given up hope. Then poof…. there they were. That moment of first discovery is incredibly gratifying. Stage one complete!

Now….. patience, over wintering, and more patience. Its’s a virtue just as the Bible informs us. While it can be developed by many non EP related activities, the unique type of patience that comes from gardening, is yet another connection to our Father God. He is, after all, exceedingly patient with us as well.

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My assumption, and it may be incorrect, is that asparagus should be a very low maintenance planting. Not only is it a perennial, but it grows in the wild quite famously in ditches and elsewhere. With that in mind, my approach has been mostly to imitate nature. There isn’t anyone weeding those ditches where the asparagus pop up. Why should I have to bother weeding my beds?

But I still do. I did say I mostly imitate nature. They seem so fragile yet that I believe it is prudent, with the time I have already invested in them, to baby them along.  Also, I do not know if the wild varieties behave the same as Mary Washington. So I keep them weeded until they have sprung forth and are easily identified. This vigilant approach would not change or be affected in a grid down existence. Thus, I mostly leave them be, just as if they were growing wild. If they reach a level of maturity I’m confident in, I may even let the weeds grow in, just like in the ditches.  Its an experiment as much as anything since my families’ stomachs are not dependent upon this production.

Come late fall I cover them, as I do the rest of the garden, with a blanket of leaves at least 2 feet deep.  If I found myself in a grid down nightmare, I could sustain this practice as there will always be plenty of leaves to be gathered. That to me is the true spirit of living with a prepper mindset. Buying “stuff” is not.

As you will see in this Youtube, I was excited to see them survive that first winter. That stirred a measure of hopefulness, and possibly unrealistic expectation.

If its not beyond obvious, my videos are unscripted, on the fly adventures when the “muse” nudges me to hit that big red dot on my camera phone.  The mention of potentially selling my asparagus seems ridiculously optimistic in hindsight. Their bed is only about 50 square feet after all. But I’ve had notions of creating a front yard, curbside organics stand to introduce myself and my kids to the commercial side of food production. So that may have been rattling around in the back of my head at the time of the recording.

Truth be told, the bed is several years old and appears, by my expectations, to be behind schedule. This is why its a good idea to put self sufficiency to trial rather than assumption. Many people fool themselves to massage their egos. They like the perception of being prepared and self reliant. But they don’t recognize that their results are often based upon a dependence of industrial shortcuts. My “from scatch” asparagus experiment is proving to me that I can’t take this perennial for granted as an easy food source if in a grid down environment.

These pictures are from spring of 2017. They weren’t much bigger in 2018. We shall see what 2019 brings in just a few months….. patience.

Do you have any asparagus growing tips? Leave them in the comments section.

 

 

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God bless, and have fun in your back yard!

 

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