The Season Ends
Asparagus season has ended here now, after more than two months of harvest. From now till they yellow in autumn, the green fronds will gather sunlight which, along with nutrients and water, will pack away energy into the roots, energy that will fuel next year’s harvest.
In addition to dealing with the weather, the plants have to contend with weeds. I have to admit, despite being the author of the book Weedless Gardening, that my asparagus bed each year is overrun with weeds, mostly two species(!) of oxalis, creeping Charlie, and various grasses. Also weeds parading as asparagus, self-sown plants. This, even though I planted all male varieties. Any batch of male plants typically has a certain, low percentage of female plants. (Still, my garden is weed-less even if it’s not weedless.)
I always wondered about the recommendation to plant asparagus crowns in deep trenches that are gradually filled in with soil as the new plants grow. I read that one reason is that crowns deep in the soil results in thicker, albeit fewer and later, spears. But as if to decide for themselves, research also shows that , over time, shallowly planted crowns naturally settle deeper into the ground, and deeply planted crowns inch upwards.
Another reason for deep planting is, perhaps, to protect the crown from tiller blades or hoes. I don’t till and, since the plants anyway take the matters in their own hands, I set my asparagus, years ago when I planted them, just deep enough to get the crowns under the ground.
Weed Control(?) for Next Year
But back to the weeds in my asparagus bed . . . This year I’m determined to get more of the upper hand with weeds. To whit: Yesterday I cut everything — weeds and asparagus — in the bed as low as possible. A bush scythe, which is a scythe with a short, heavy duty blade, does this job easily and quickly; a weed whacker might also work. One year a battery powered hedge trimmer got the job done. For me, the scythe works best.
In years past, I would cut everything to the ground, as I did this year, and then I’d top the bed with a couple of inches of wood chips.
This year, to get better weed-less-ness and to offer the asparagus plants a treat as thanks for the many spears that went into cold soup, hot vegetable dishes, and the freezer, I offered them compost. Although I make lots of compost, that compost is generally reserved for beds within the vegetable garden proper and potting mixes as well as, this year, my newly planted grape vines, and pear and apple trees.
Asparagus is worth it, so I dug into my most finished compost bin, filled up two garden carts, and slathered a one-inch layer of compost over the whole bed. That inch of dense, dark compost should go a long way to smothering small weeds, which have little reserve energy. The compost then got topped with a couple of inches of wood chips. The compost will nourish the asparagus . . . and the weeds, most of which I hope will be sufficiently young or weakened to not push up through the compost and the wood chips to light.
That was a lot of compost to part with. No problem, because I’ve also been making lots of compost. Plus, a few bins I built last year, each with about one-and-half cubic yards of compost, are ready to use or will be so in the coming weeks.
The bins themselves are made from 1×6 boards of composite wood (a mixture of waste wood, recycled and new plastic, and some type of binding agent), such as used for decking, notched to stack together Lincoln-log style. It keeps moisture and heat in, and scavengers and weeds more or less out, and doesn’t degrade, as did my previous wood bins.
I feed my compost pets — earthworms, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms — hay from my small field, manure from a nearby horse farm, kitchen waste, old garden plants, and anything else biodegradable. The latter category has included old leather shoes and garden gloves, jeans, and, as an experiment, biodegradable(?) plastic spoons.
The compost also gets occasional sprinklings of soil, to add bulk, and ground limestone. Periodic liming is generally needed to counteract the acidity of most soils of northeastern U.S.; my soil gets limed indirectly, via the compost.
Water is commonly the most limiting ingredient in home composts. Lots of water is necessary to percolate down into a pile. Rather than getting bored with a hose wand, after finishing an extended composting session, I set up a small sprinkler on the pile, whose spread is as wide as the pile, to gently water for about 20 minutes.
Of course, the devil is in the details: how much of each ingredient to add. Not to worry, though. Any pile of organic materials will eventually turn to compost.
For my piles, I check moisture with a REOTEMP long stem moisture meter and monitor progress with a long stem compost thermometer. This time of year temperatures of the piles soar to 150°F within a few days.
My asparagus bed is worth all this.