By Tori Jackson, Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Androscoggin & Sagadahoc Counties, email@example.com.
Asparagus is often the first vegetable that we can harvest from the garden in the spring, and the sight of those tender spears emerging from the soil fills a gardener with hopeful anticipation for the coming season.
An asparagus planting is usually established from fleshy crowns bought from a nursery supplier or local garden center. Plants can also be started from seed, which should be planted into peat pots and started indoors about six weeks prior to moving outdoors. It is important to select varieties that are disease resistant and will perform well under Maine’s challenging climate. Varieties we presently recommend include Mary Washington Improved, Jersey King, Jersey Knight, Guelph Millennium, and for those wanting spears with a unique color, Purple Passion.
The site for an asparagus planting must have a well drained soil, because plants in wet soils will succumb to root rot problems. A soil test should be carried out well before planting and any needed amendments should be worked in during the fall or spring prior to planting. Perennial weeds such as quack grass must be eliminated prior to planting, or they will quickly overcome the crop. Asparagus should be planted on the west or north edge of a garden to prevent the ferns from shading other crops and interfering with tillage of the rest the garden. Plant asparagus in the spring after the danger of hard frost has past. How much should you plant? Figure that each crown should produce about ½ pound of spears per year once fully established.
To plant dormant crowns, dig a furrow two to three inches wide and about four to six inches deep. Phosphorus can be helpful in plant establishment. If your soil tends to be low in phosphorus, apply about two pounds of super phosphate (0-20-0) per 50 feet of row along the bottom of the furrow (bone meal can also be used, but it tends to attract skunks). Space the crowns about 18 inches apart at the bottom of the furrow. If planting more than one row, space them at least four feet apart to allow the ferns plenty of growing space. After planting, fill the furrow back up to the original soil level, but do not compact or press the soil over the buried crowns, as this may damage the buds and will delay spear emergence. Keep the soil moist. You should start to see spears emerging in one to two weeks. Do not harvest the spears during the planting year. The spears will elongate and form “ferns,” which will support and promote the growth of the roots. The plants can be mulched lightly during the growing season to help reduce weed pressure with wood shavings, pine needles or the like.
The ferns will die off in the fall and should be mowed off either late in the fall or early in the spring, prior to the emergence of new spears. Waiting until spring may improve winter survival. During the second year spears may be harvested as they emerge over a two to three week period. Snap the shoots off when they are seven to nine inches high and before the tips start to loosen. The bed should be harvested every three to four days. After three weeks stop harvesting and allow the shoots to develop ferns to build up the plants for next year. Fertilizer should be applied after the last harvest. About ½ pound of ammonium nitrate or 1 ½ pounds of 10-10-10 should be applied over 50 feet of row. An application of compost over the plants can also be used as a fertilizer. Check the product container to determine its nutrient levels.
Late frost or cutworms can cause the spears to “crook” after they emerge, and asparagus beetles and their larvae may be found feeding on the ferns during the season. In the latter case, handpicking may provide an effective means of control on a small planting, but insecticides may be warranted on larger plantings. There are both organic and synthetic insecticide options available, but be sure to check product labels for rates, timing and safety precautions.
And that’s it! Every year thereafter the first shoots to emerge in the spring should be harvested for a three to four week period, then allow the ferns to grow and mow them off the following spring. Enjoy your asparagus planting and be sure to share with your friends. They’ll be much more tolerant of your excess zucchini in the summer.
By Amy Witt Horticulturist, UMaine Extension, Cumberland County, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you know that many of the flowers in the home landscape are edible and the flowers of most culinary herbs are safe to eat? Flowers have a long tradition in cooking including European, East Indian, Victorian, English, and Middle Eastern cuisines. Early American colonists also used flowers as a valuable food source. Many flowers are high in nutrients and can be used fresh in salads, garnis hes, baked goods, jams & jellies, teas, oils, vinegars, honey, wine, butters, stuffed, and stir-fried.
Because some flowers are toxic, proper identification is a must before consuming any flowers (or plants). (Both Rutgers and the University of Vermont are good resources for lists of poisonous plants.)
Take the following precautions before eating any flowers:
Pick flowers that are disease, pest, and pesticide-free.
Edible Flowers to Consider Trying
|Common Name||Botanical Name||Edible Parts||Flavor||Suggested Uses|
|Calendula||Calendula officinalis||Petals at peak||Tangy; peppery||Fresh in salads; substitute for saffron|
|Dandelion||Taraxacum officinale||Young flowers (yellow parts — sepals are bitter)||Sweet, honey-like (mature flowers become bitter)||Wine, sauté, vinegars, butters, garnish, fritters|
|Daylily||Hemerocallis fulva||Buds and blooms. Eat in moderation — daylilies may act as a diuretic or laxative.||Combination of asparagus/zucchini.||Prepare buds like green beans. Use blooms in desserts, as a garnish in salads or on cakes.|
|Gladiolus||Gladiolus spp.||Blossoms||Mild||Container for garnish or dips or spreads.|
|Hibiscus, China rose, Rose-of-China||Hibiscus rosa-sinensis||Petals||Citrus/cranberry flavor||Used in many tea flavorings and as a garnish.|
|Hibiscus, Rose-of-Sharon||Hibiscus syriacus||Petals||Mild, nutty||Teas, fruit salads|
|Hollyhock||Alcea rosea||Flower||Slightly bitter||Best as a garnish or container for dip.|
|Lilac||Syringa vulgaris||Flowers||Perfumed, slightly bitter||Candied|
|Nasturtium||Tropaelum majus||Blossoms||Watercress; peppery||Garnish in salads|
|Rose||Rosa spp.||Petals, hips (remove the white, bitter base of the petal)||Sweet to bitter. Hips are tart and cranberry like.||Petals used in salads, garnishes, candied & rose water. Hips are used in teas, jams, wine, pastries|
|Squash or pumpkin||Cucurbita spp.||Male and female blossoms||Slightly floral||Eat raw or cooked — sautéed or batter fried, stuffed.|
|Tuberous begonia||Begonia x tuberhybrida||Petals. Tuberous hybrids are best.||Citrus-spicy||Salads or garnish|
|Violet||Viola odorata||Flowers||Sweet, perfumed||Candied or garnish for soups, desserts, and punch; jams, fruit & green salads|
*In many cases, other parts of the plant are also edible (please check a reputable source to identify which plants and parts).
**For more extensive lists of edible flowers, visit the following websites: www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/Garden/07237.html or www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8513.html.
For optimum results:
Pick flowers early in the day, but after the dew has dried.
Consider integrating edible flowering plants to your vegetable garden. They will not only attract beneficial insects and pollinators for your vegetable crops, but you will also be able to use them for food.
Enjoy the flavor and colorful additions to your culinary dishes!
Edible Flowers, S.E. Newman and A. Stoven O’Connor (11/09), www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/Garden/07237.html
Edible Flowers, 1/99 HIL-8513, Cyndi Lauderdale, Extension Agent, Wilson County Center and Erv Evans, Extension Associate Department of Horticultural Science College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, North Carolina State University, www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8513.html
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Image Description: asparagus beetles and larvae
Image Description: layer cake with edible blossom decorations
Image Description: spring peeper on a lily blossom
Image Description: Hibiscus syriacus