Friday, February 13, 2015

Sowing Asparagus


This year one of my goals is to set up an asparagus patch.  My original plan was to purchase crowns.  I had, however, heard (somewhere?) that growing asparagus from seed was possibly a better alternative.  When I mentioned that I was hoping to start some asparagus on Bek’s blog, she also re-iterated that I should consider going the seed route instead of using crowns.

Why?  Because seed grown asparagus can result in better, stronger plants in the long run since they didn’t go through the shock of being ripped from the ground, packaged and then allowed to sit there for who knows how long waiting to be purchased.

This, coupled with complaints from other bloggers about the dubious quality of the crowns they purchased (with some crowns not even surviving into their 2nd year), prompted me to give seeds a try.  The fact that asparagus seeds are also about 1/3 the cost of crowns doesn’t hurt either.

The one big drawback to growing asparagus from seed, of course, is that your first harvest will be delayed by one year.  But since asparagus is such a long lived vegetable, often producing for over twenty years, I don’t mind the extra wait if that means my plants will be stronger & give me a better harvest in the long run.

This past weekend I got down to business and sowed my asparagus seed.  There were a total of 26 seeds in the packet and I decided to sow them all.  I'm still debating on the size of the bed, but I know that I will need at least 18-20 plants, so hopefully I get a good rate of germination.

To give the seeds a bit of a jump start, I soaked them in water for 2 hours before sowing:


Guelph Millennium (F1) Asparagus Seeds
Enjoying a soak before sowing
 
I filled 2½” cell packs with moistened seed starting mix and made a relatively shallow depression in each one – planting depth should be approximately 1/8” deep.

I then plopped a seed into each hole, ran my hand over the soil to cover the seed & topped each cell with vermiculite.  I had BIG issues with damping off back in 2013 & found that topping the soil with vermiculite helped stave off the disease.

Cell Packs after Seeding
 
Asparagus seed likes warm soil in the 25C (77F) range, so I placed the cell packs in a tray, covered it with a lid and then placed the whole lot on my seedling heat mat.

As I learned last year, insulating the heat mat from the cold floor or shelf by placing a folded terry towel underneath makes a world of difference when it comes to the amount of heat generated.


Condensation builds up on the interior of the lid
from the toasty conditions inside the tray
 
Asparagus seeds are very slow to germinate, taking anywhere from 2-8 weeks, although most should come up within 3 weeks.  Yikes!  Seeds that take this long to poke through the soil make me nervous – when it comes to starting seeds, 1 or 2 weeks often feels like an eternity!

Having never grown asparagus from seed before, I’m not sure if this will be a challenge or easy peasy.   The good news is, if I do end up having issues, I can always revert to crowns.  The same variety I purchased as seed is also available at William Dam as crowns in the early spring.

Speaking of variety, I chose an all-male hybrid – Guelph Millennium - developed by the University of Guelph, right here in Ontario.  It is supposed to be a heavy producer and won “Seed of the Year” back in 2005.  Let’s hope it lives up to expectations – I guess I’ll know in about 3 years’ time!

Till next time...

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

14 comments:

  1. Always fun to try new things. I will be watching (and waiting!!!) to see how you do with this.
    I hope it works well for you.
    I don't like seeds with LONG germination times either. I'm always left wondering if the seed was wonky , etc.
    I'm doing some ornamental grasses right now and it's been TWO long weeks and nothing yet. I hope my seed isn't too old............

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    1. That's EXACTLY my thinking as well...if something is wrong with the seed, you've lost weeks of growing time.

      There are some gorgeous annual grasses out there, but I've always shied away from purchasing them (from the garden center) as they tend to be far too expensive for a plant that only lasts one season...I actually never thought of growing them from seed - I think I'm having a light bulb moment ;)

      And I'll be keeping my fingers crossed on the germination front for BOTH of us!!

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  2. Good luck with your seed. Asparagus don't seem to like my garden at all. It dies off over time. Not always the first year, but as time goes on I lose more and more. I still have a few. When they die I probably won't try again.

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    1. Thanks Daphne. I guess everybody has those few fruit & veg that are just too much trouble or simply won't grow (well) in their garden. Hopefully those few that are left in your garden are now acclimated and will continue to give you some spears for a few years.

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  3. I planted crowns 2 years ago (from Sandy Shore Farms in Ontario). I've been patient and haven't touched a single spear. I can't tell if they are doing well enough as my previous experience was with an already established patch. But they seem OK and cannot wait to start harvesting some this year. As for the germination time, I started rosemary from seed 2 years ago and could not believe how long it took! Seemed like forever. Patience grasshopper. :)

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    1. How exciting that your wait for asparagus ends this year! You must be so looking forward to those first delicious spears...

      Just checked my seeds today and, not surprisingly, nothing yet. Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to starting seeds, that's for sure!!

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  4. Good luck! Growing asparagus from seed has always seemed like such a challenging proposition to me. I planted crowns from Nourse farms and they all seem to be doing well. This is my second time purchasing them. I planted them exactly as they said to do so hopefully they will come back ok this year. Apparently, asparagus likes alkaline soil so adding a bit of lime to the soil bed might help.

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    1. I may be in luck with the alkaline soil - when I got the soil in my original beds tested, the pH was very high at 7.8. I added quite a bit of peat moss to them this year, trying to get that pH down. The soil in those beds was purchased and I'm actually hoping this isn't indicative of the soil in our area or I may have issues with those blueberry bushes I plan on getting!

      Since I used a different supplier this past year for all the soil for the new beds, the pH may very well be different - the new soil was certainly a different consistency, having a lot more clay in it. I'll definitely have to check the pH to make sure I don't have to add any lime. Thanks for the reminder, Thomas!

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  5. Looking forward to reading about your asparagus, from seeds to plants. I was given a few crowns last year, they all survived, hope they get through this harsh winter OK.

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    1. I'm still waiting for those seedlings to poke out of the soil....it's only been 1 1/2 weeks & I'm already impatient! I'll be crossing my fingers that your asparagus comes up unscathed this spring...the snow cover should at least protect them from any frigid temps.

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  6. I endorse your views (and Bek's). Some of the crowns I bought have been good, but some of them were very poor. I too am trying to raise some new stock this year, from seed. I have some "Connover's Colossal" seeds that a friend gave me. I sowed them a few days ago. No germination so far, but it's early days still.

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    1. Now that most of the seeds have come up, I'm quite excited...but still a bit nervous. A lot can happen between now and when they get transplanted outside in May (I'm having visions of healthy seedlings keeling over from damping off disease, an issue I had two years ago).

      I'm actually quite excited that you decided to grow your asparagus from seed as well - not many people seem to do this so it will be interesting to see how our experiences compare.

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  7. I grew some from crowns, they did well for the first year and died the next, not growing asparagus again.

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    1. Oh, that's too bad...I've heard of that happening in some cases which is why I decided to give seeds a try first; you really can't predict what the quality of the crowns is going to be & the plants survival really depends on good quality stock.

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