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post-hole digger making home for asparagus crown

We are all grateful to Eliot Coleman for so many reasons; just add this one to the litany. And it’s not for anything to do with winter gardening. It’s for saving my life, or rather the tentative lives of the asparagus crowns that have been waiting impatiently to find their new homes while I attend to business and finish my manuscript on Canning and Preserving (sort of counter-intuitive to Coleman’s philosophy, but we won’t go there today).

My last experience with asparagus was about twenty-five years ago. We read the instructions about digging a trench; my then husband began the digging while I attended to the kids. Several hours later he returned to the kitchen and announced that the bed was ready to plant; with excitement, I brought out the crowns and probably a few toddlers to find what appeared to be a grave site. He had dug more than a trench — a wide pit sufficiently deep to accommodate a coffin at regulation depth. (okay, exaggeration) Knowing that it would do nothing for our marriage if I suggested that it was too deep, I placed the asparagus crowns into what turned out to be their grave. Nothing emerged, ever. Complicating their challenge was the fact that our instructions said nothing about gradually covering them as they grew, so we piled three to four feet of soil on the crowns and challenged them to find daylight. If they made the attempt, I’ll never know.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I’m ready to take the asparagus challenge again. Do you know how many different opinions there are on the best way to plant asparagus crowns? The most common opinion calls for digging a trench about eight inches deep and twenty-four to thirty inches wide, and as long as needed to place the crowns between fifteen and twenty-four inches apart. You do the math; that’s a lot of earth to move. I’m already behind schedule getting these guys in the ground because of the manuscript deadline, and I’m gone for nearly three weeks in May. Yikes!

This is where Eliot Coleman comes in. In his Four Season Harvest, he suggests preparing the thirty-inch wide bed as usual, but then using a post-hole digger to dig eight-inch-deep holes for the crowns, spacing them twenty-four inches apart down the center of the standard bed. Much easier than digging out the entire bed! I modified his directions somewhat based on other sources that suggested you could plant them closer than twenty-four inches. I have the holes fifteen inches on center, and was able to accommodate twenty crowns.

What Coleman and a few others recommended (but curiously not the instructions that came with the crowns) was to place the crowns in the hole or trench and cover with just an inch or two of soil — don’t fill in the entire eight inches. Let the crowns sprout and break through, then continue to fill as they grow, similar to mounding potatoes.

Here’s a series of shots from the process. Let’s hope that soon I’ll be seeing those crowns peeking through, though it will be a few years before tasting the fruits of my labors.

cown in bottom of hole

crown covered with a little compost

asparagus patch for twenty crowns

New cold frame with onions, lettuce, and arugula

This year my garden is expanding in a number of ways. One of those ways is the addition of three cold frames that I plan to use mostly for my winter harvest. I’ve been studying Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and hope to implement some of his ideas later this summer and into the winter. So my husband, Bob, made me three cold frames like the one that you see here, following Coleman’s instructions, except that Bob made them so that they could come apart if need be. And the lights (that’s what you call the glass covers) are just old storm windows that would have gone to the dump. They simply lay atop the base (as you can see below) or lean up against the house or a local bush when they are off. If I want them partially raised, I prop a stick under the front of the light, while the rear of the light rests against the house. Not fancy, but works pretty well.

Cold frame with lights in place

Those little green lines that you see in the image above are seeds that I planted recently. Over a month ago, I started arugula and onions inside, then a few weeks ago, I transplanted them outside in the cold frame. A week later, I planted seeds for a spring mix directly into the cold frame. We had some unseasonably warm weather last week and that spring mix just couldn’t pop up fast enough! The transplanted onions don’t seem to be very happy. They are still just green filaments sticking out of the bedding soil.  The transplanted arugula, on the other hand, that’s really doing well as you can see from the close up below.

Close up of the arugula transplants

I ask you, how pretty is that? Won’t be long and I’ll thin it out a bit more and have some fresh — really fresh — greens for my salad for the first time since last September.

At this point, the arugula might not need to be in the cold frame, though weather predictions have us into the twenties over the weekend, so it’s not a bad insurance policy. But I won’t transplant these into the regular garden. They’ll lives their lives in the cold frame, but not covered. Being cool weather plants, they’ll be past by the summer, surrendering the site to new seedlings that will be the start of a progression planting of my winter crop…but that’s getting ahead of myself. For now, I celebrate those green shoots that brighten these chilly March days!

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