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A DELICIOUS VEGETABLE A Complete Guide to Its Successful Cultivation

Asparagus is one of the most delicious early summer vegetables and its cultivation gives little trouble, provided the bed is prepared correctly before the plants are put in. The botanical name of this plant is Asparagus officinalis; it belongs to the Lily family, Liliaceae, and grows wild in the sandy maritime districts of southern Europe, southwestern England and southern Ireland. The name is derived from sparasso, to tear, an allusion to the prickly growth of some kinds.

Sandy, loamy land provides perfect conditions for the cultivation of Asparagus, but this vegetable can be made to thrive on any kind of cultivated garden ground by thorough and correct cultivation. The male and female sexes in Asparagus are found in different plants; male plants give heavier and better crops than female. Two methods of cultivation are practiced, the bed, and the row. The latter is labor-saving and easier to manage; the bed method is, however, more satisfactory on heavy, moisture-holding land and gives greater crops from the same area.

Width of the Bed. A convenient width for an Asparagus bed is 4 1/2-5 ft., the beds being separated by paths 2 ft. wide. A bed of this size will take three rows of plants, the two outer rows being set 9-12 in. from the edge, the distance between the inner row and each of the outer rows being 18 in. An Asparagus bed 3 ft. wide will take two rows of plants, the latter being set about 9 in. from the edge; this is a convenient size in gardens of limited area. In the rows the plants are set about 15 in. apart.

As an Asparagus bed will continue to be profitable for at least twenty years, it is worth while taking pains with the preparation of the site so that there shall be a good depth of rich, fertile, well-drained soil.

Making an Asparagus Bed. The ground should be excavated to a depth of 2 ft., and if it is clayey, drainage of stone or broken brick must be put in; on land of this kind it is an advantage to have the surface of the bed raised above the ground level. Partly decayed farmyard manure should be mixed with the lower layer of soil, and bone meal, at the rate of 3 or 4 oz. per square yard, with the upper soil.

The Row Method. In this system the plants are grown in single rows. Trenches are prepared, about 18 in. wide, by removing the top layer of soil and mixing plenty of farmyard manure or compost with the lower soil. Some of the topsoil is then returned to the trench; mix in bone meal, 3 oz. per yard run, as filling proceeds.

When completed, the trench should be 6 in. deep to allow for covering the newly planted crowns first with 3 in. of soil, and, after growth is sufficiently advanced, with 6 in. The plants are set 18 in. apart. If more than one row is grown, they should be 3 ft. apart.

The best time to plant is early spring. Roots one year or two years old are to be preferred, though those three years old may be put in. Small ridges of soil should be drawn up where the plants are to be set, so that the crowns are on top of the ridge and the roots down the sides. A soil covering of 5 or 6 in. is necessary.

Roots Must Be Kept Moist. If the Asparagus roots are exposed for a long time and are allowed to become dry, they will start into growth slowly—if, indeed, they start at all. It is most necessary to keep them moist during the time they are out of the ground.

When to Cut the Shoots. If roots one year old are planted, Asparagus should not be cut until the third year; if roots two years old are put in, the produce should not be cut until the second year. Roots three years old will provide Asparagus the year following planting; none of the shoots should be cut the first year. The younger shoots are cut when showing green a few inches above the surface but before the bud begins to expand, a special knife being used for the purpose, although a long, thin-bladed kitchen knife will serve. The knife is thrust into the soil and turned inwards vertically to sever the shoot; take care to cut a few inches above the crown.

Do Not Cut Asparagus After June. During the summer months when the plants are growing freely the bed must be kept moist in hot, dry weather by watering. The shoots ought not to be rut after the third week in June, otherwise the plants will be prevented from making vigorous growth and building up strong crowns for the following year's crop. After cutting has ceased, an occasional watering with liquid fertilizer will prove helpful in assuring the development of strong plants.

Stray seedlings should be uprooted. Weeds must be removed.

Cutting Down the Stems. When the leaves have turned yellow, the stems are cut to the ground, care being taken to pick up all fallen berries, which contain the seeds, to prevent the appearance of self-sown seedlings. After the stems have been cut down, the bed, if on light land, should be top-dressed with partly decayed manure or compost, which is then covered with a little soil taken from between the beds. If the land is clayey, the top-dressing should be put on in March.

Fertilizers for Asparagus. In early spring an application of the following mixture of fertilizers should be applied and raked into the soil, using 3 oz. per square yard: 1 part sulphate of potash and 1 part sulphate of ammonia. A complete commercial fertilizer may be substituted for this mixture if desired.

Raising Asparagus from Seed. The only way to raise Asparagus plants is from seed. Sow it thinly in spring, in a shallow drill. If a few Radish seeds are sprinkled in the drill they will serve to mark the rows for hoeing. When a few inches high, the Asparagus seedlings should be thinned to 3 in. apart, and should require no further attention other than keeping them free from weeds. The following spring the plants may be set in their permanent positions; discard any weaklings, as only those with vigorous root systems are worth planting.

How to Obtain Early Asparagus. Asparagus may be forced by lifting threeor four-year-old plants and putting them close together in a heated frame or greenhouse in December, January or February; set them in a bed of rich soil and cover them with a layer of light sandy soil, to a depth of 4 in.

A temperature of 65-70 degrees should be maintained and the soil kept evenly moist. The time taken to produce forced Asparagus varies from fourteen to thirty days, according to the start into growth more quickly in early spring temperature and the time of the year. The plants than in winter.

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