This earliest, most healthful, and delicious vegetable is rarely found in home gardens in well-kept rows, as grown by market-gardeners. Almost invariably the asparagus-patch is found in a sod-bound corner, where the crop is neither plentiful nor palatable.
No plant responds so promptly to manuring and such culture in rows as is given to corn and potatoes. A main essential, in addition to heavy manuring and early spring culture, is to expose the rows to the open sunshine. In the shade, during the middle of the day, its growth with the best of care is by no means satisfactory. It likewise fails to do well on wet land, and on clay it is not as early as on sandy loam soils.
In starting rows it is usually best for the amateur to purchase one-year-old plants of nurserymen or dealers in seeds. Plant in spring, when the soil works well, in rows four feet apart, with the plants three feet apart in the rows. It is best to plant with the crowns of the roots two or three inches below the surface, but it is not best to fill up the channels until after the plants start. Where the plants are not readily obtainable, rows are often started by taking up the seedling plants that spring up in old beds. In July these are about six inches high and transplant about as safely as weeds. These will be well rooted by autumn and come forward about as rapidly as when one-year-old plants are set in early spring.
In new sections, if plants are not available, they are easily grown from seed. The berries are crushed and mixed with sand (5. Seed-stratification) and buried outside for spring planting, or they can be planted in the fall half an inch deep in drills with a ridge of earth two inches deep drawn over the rows. In the spring the ridge is raked off, leaving a mellow seed-bed in which the plants will make rapid growth. If desirable they can be transplanted in July in the permanent rows, or they can be left for planting the next spring in a dormant condition.
As to after-care when the plants are dead in the fall, they may be mowed off and burned, and the surface should be treated with a coat of well-rotted manure. In the spring cultivate well the surface, without regard to the position of the plants, prior to the starting of the succulent shoots. It is also best, when the season of picking closes, to cultivate the whole surface. Some cutting can be done in private gardens the second year, but it is preferable to wait until the third season.
In gathering the shoots for home use it is best to cut them at the surface of the ground. Market-gardeners usually cut the shoots with at least two inches of the white part that grew below the surface. But this lower part is usually tough and slightly bitter, hence for home use it is discarded. If manure is put on in the fall, it must be cultivated in before the shoots start in spring, or it will delay the starting of the shoots often for a period of ten days. Some prefer manuring at the close of the picking season, cultivating in at once.
The writer has not found any great difference in varieties. More depends on culture and manuring. Yet Conover's Colossal, Moore's, and Palmetto are slightly larger than the common variety that has become a weed in some sections.