After having decided upon the distance between rows, an ordinary moldboard plow is used to make the trenches for planting. A furrow slice is thrown on each side of the furrow. It is often necessary to make two or three rounds before the proper depth has been obtained. Then shovels are sometimes employed to secure greater depth. When trenched and ready to receive the plants, the field has the appearance of having dead-furrows at frequent intervals. Unless companion crops are to be grown between the rows, cross marks should be made so that the cultivators may be used both ways. A pole with a series of chains attached at the required distance is sometimes used in marking, though more accurate methods are preferred.
It is not best to set the plants in the bottom of a hard trench. Instead, spread the roots over a slight mound of fine soil and then cover the crown with 2 or 3 inches of fine moist soil. The ground should be well firmed over the fleshy roots. The planter may accomplish this by the use of his feet as he rises and proceeds to the next plant. Inexperienced growers often make the mistake of covering the crowns too deeply at first, thus smothering the small shoots before these reach the surface. No more soil should be filled in the trench until the shoots appear. Then soil is gradually worked in mainly by cultivation. By midsummer the furrows should be filled.
Following the planting of the new bed or the field, tillage should begin promptly after the first rain. Light raking in the furrows will be sufficient tillage at first, but after the plants have started, wheel hoes of one-horse cultivators are employed. Care must be exercised in cultivating to prevent breaking, injuring and covering the young plants. One-horse cultivators are doubtless the best implements for most conditions, although other types of implements are employed in various sections.
Cultivation should begin early in the spring and continue as long as it is possible to get between the rows with horse tools in order to keep down the weeds and maintain soil moisture. Some hoeing may be necessary during the cutting season, although the proper use of the weeder will reduce the amount of hand labor. If the weeder is used during the middle of sunny days, when the plants are not so rigid, very few shoots will be broken or injured.
In established fields either the disk or the cutaway harrow should be used to break and pulverize the surface soil in the spring as soon as the ground is dry enough. Manure may also be incorporated with the soil at this time. Following harvest, one of these tools should be employed after the fertilizer or the manure has been applied. In old fields harrowing will necessarily injure some of the buds, but the benefit is so great that the operation is justifiable.
Ridging to a greater or less extent is practiced in nearly all plantations, not excepting fields producing green shoots. Plows, disk ridgers or other special tools are used to perform this work in the spring after the ground has been harrowed. Ridging is not usually practiced until the spring of the third year. The ground is always leveled at the close of the cutting season and one-horse cultivators are employed as long as it is possible to get between the rows. In a few weeks after the last cutting the ground will be completely shaded and the weeds cannot make much progress. No tillage tool which will seriously break or mutilate the roots should ever be used in asparagus fields.
There is an increased tendency to cut a small percentage of the shoots the second year. The majority of growers regard it a mistake to cut before the third year, and yet there are examples of growers harvesting $50 worth of shoots an acre the second year without any apparently injurious effect upon the cuttings of subsequent years. The cutting season of the third year should not continue longer than three or four weeks. It is well understood, of course, that the renewal of the shoots is an exhaustive process, and it is possible to reduce materially the vitality of the crowns by cutting too severely. It is true, however, that the average length of the cutting season is longer today than ever before. Formerly, it was thought that the plants would not stand a cutting period of more than six or seven weeks. Then the period was lengthened to eight weeks, and now nine is common. Successful growers sometimes cut for 10 or 11 weeks, but this is possible only when the season is very early and beds or fields are in prime condition. Whenever the shoots begin to show weakness it is certainly time to stop cutting. In the North, harvesting generally begins during April and continues until June 15, or two to three weeks later. If the bed is to be abandoned, cutting can be continued in the summer as long as the crop pays.
In foreign countries the shoots are nearly always removed with the hand, breaking them neatly without injury to other shoots and without leaving a stub to decay. In this country, special tools have been devised for the purpose. The point of the knife is shoved down the shoot the required distance, the handle moved from the stock to form the required angle and the knife then thrust through the shoot. As asparagus bunches vary from 7 to 10 inches in length the cutting of the shoots must be regulated accordingly. Then, too, the height of blanching and consequently the depth of cutting under ground must be regulated by market demands. White "grass" is cut just as soon as the tips appear. Green "grass" may be cut at the ground or there may be a compromise, cutting 2 to 4 inches below the surface. Many growers who claim they are selling the green product are really offering a compromised article.