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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

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