Preparation for asparagus planting begins the year before

Planting a new asparagus field is a tremendous investment. Make sure you maximize your chances of success.

With the increased price of asparagus seed and inputs such as fertilizer and labor, growers are now paying an average cost of over $4,000 to plant an acre of asparagus. Growers need to be sure that they have done everything possible to maximize their chances of successes. Getting a field off to a good start can mean thousands of extra pounds of production and years longer of productive life.

Successful planting of a new asparagus field begins the year before the crowns go in the ground. The year before planting is often called the “build-up year,” and it is critically important to the long-term success of the asparagus field.

Soils need to be tested and the fertility needs to be brought up to a high level with the required amounts of potassium and phosphate. Because lime takes anywhere from 6 to 24 months to fully react, if any is needed, it needs to be applied and incorporated no later than the spring of the year before planting to give it time to work. Tough perennial weeds, like brambles, hemp dogbane and milkweed, can be more easily controlled with the stronger herbicide mixes available on idle land. If the land is not virgin asparagus ground, growers should consider fumigation the fall prior to planting to kill soil borne diseases like Phytophthora and Fusarium that may have built up during the previous asparagus crop. If the soil organic matter is low, a final step to consider is applying an amendment like compost or manure to help improve that important aspect of soil chemistry.

Production of the crowns that will go into your field also begins the year before planting. Growers should try to select a vigorous, productive, all-male variety, preferably one that has a recent history of having less than five percent female plants or that has a lab test to prove that it has not been contaminated. Unless the grower plans to raise the crowns him or herself, which is a pretty specialized operation, the grower will need to arrange to have a reputable crown nursery grow out the purchased seed. Look for more than just the lowest price when you shop for a crown nursery. Look for a crown grower who has a good reputation with other asparagus growers. It is highly recommended that crowns be grown only on beds that have been fumigated the fall prior to planting so they come to your field in a healthier condition than those grown on un-fumigated beds.

Getting an asparagus field off to a good start is critically important in determining whether the field will be a profitable part of the operation. Mistakes made at any point during the build-up year, planting year and first growing year will be magnified throughout the rest of the life of the field.

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