Check soil pH and fertility by having your soil analyzed at least once every three years. Your local Extension agent will have directions for properly collecting a soil sample. Your soil samples can be sent to the State University or a Soils Laboratory for testing. Soil testing kits are also available. Soil pH measures the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Vegetables vary to some extent in their requirements, but most garden crops will do well with a soil pH of 6.2 to 6.8. This is a little below neutral, or slightly acid (sour). If soil pH is too high or low, poor crop growth will result, largely due to the effects pH has on the availability of nutrients to plants.
A soil test report will include the relative level of phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients in the soil. The report also will give you recommendations for the amount of lime and fertilizer to add so that your soil pH and nutrient levels are suitable for vegetables. To find out more about soil testing in you area, call one of the following local services:
Rock Island County Farm Bureau: (309) 736-7432
Scott County Extension Service: (563) 359-7577
Asparagus is a hardy perennial. It is the only common vegetable that grows wild along roadsides and railroad tracks over a large part of the country. Although establishing a good asparagus bed requires considerable work, your efforts will be rewarded. A well-planned bed can last from 20 to 30 years. For this reason, asparagus should be planted at the side or end of the garden, where it will not be disturbed by normal garden cultivation. Asparagus is one of the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring. Asparagus is native to the Mediterranean and was eaten by the ancient Greeks.
When to Plant: Asparagus should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. One-year-old crowns or plants are preferred. Seeds are sown in a production bed and allowed to grow for a year. The young plants have compact buds in the center (crown), with numerous dangling, pencil-sized roots. Adventurous gardeners can start their own plants from seed. Although this adds a year to the process of establishing the bed, it does ensure fresh plants and the widest possible variety selection.
Harvesting: Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns, but for no more than one month the first season. The plant is still expanding its root storage system and excessive removal of spears weakens the plants. During the fourth year and thereafter, the spears may be harvested from their first appearance in the spring through May or June (as long as 8 to 10 weeks).