If you are ready for a challenge, growing asparagus in your backyard garden may be just the thing. A vegetable for the patient gardener, asparagus is undeniably delicious when it’s picked and eaten fresh. But be prepared to work long and hard to enjoy that sumptuous meal. Once it is established in your beds asparagus grows easier. It’s getting to that point that is the challenge. Asparagus is a well loved side dish in the spring time that’s actually a part of the lily plant family. Grilled, baked or steamed with butter, asparagus can also be pickled to extend the enjoyment. It is full of nutrients and has a mild, yet distinct flavor. Prepare your patch well, tend it with care and you will end up with a crop to be proud of that the whole family will enjoy for years. Best Soil for Growing Asparagus You will need to find a sunny spot in the garden and enrich the soil well. Loosen it deeply and add coconut fiber or peat moss to make sure it’s well drained. Compost should be mixed in before planting and fertilizer will need to be added on a regular basis. Asparagus is a heavy feeder. The pH level in the soil needs to be between 6.5 and 6.7. When to Plant Asparagus There are a few different routes to take when attempting to grow asparagus. Some gardeners purchase one year old spears or crowns because they are that much stronger and closer to harvesting. Others start from seed to make sure the plant has all of the optimum conditions for growth. Either way asparagus is a spring producer and can take the frost. Sow indoors a full 8 weeks before the last frost for an edge or direct sow into the garden about 3 weeks before the frost disappears. For those one year old spears, transplant them into the garden anywhere between 1 and 3 weeks before the last frost. How to Plant Asparagus Asparagus actually grows in and through a trench. Start your seeds indoors by sowing them just ¼” into the soil. Keep the seed pots moist and warm for germination, which normally takes about 10 to 14 days. For direct sowing and to transplant the seedlings start by digging a 8 to 12” deep trench. This will hold your row of asparagus. If you are sowing seeds directly into the trench be sure to space them only 1” apart and plant ¼” into the soil. Eventually you’ll need to thin the seedlings out to the proper spacing of 18” between plants. Transplants can be put in at that spacing. You won’t begin to fill the trench until the seedlings start to grow. Fill with dirt as they grow through and beyond the trench. Good companion plants for asparagus are tomatoes, basil, and parsley. These plants will work together to fend off insects and thrive. Proper Care of Asparagus Besides the process of watching the seedlings and filling the trench, you’ll need to be attentive to the needs of your asparagus. It will need regular feedings, likely every few weeks or so, with liquid fertilizer, composted manure or compost tea. Work those into the top layer of soil, being gentle around the trench. Straw or light wood chip mulch is a good idea for moisture retention in the soil and to deter weeds. Remove any weeds that sneak in. When to Harvest Asparagus Here’s the thing. If growing from seed, you'll need to wait about two years to harvest. If planting from one or two year old crowns, you'll need to wait until the crowns have set and established. You can harvest the second year after planting crowns, if you harvest lightly just three weeks out of the asparagus season. If you harvest asparagus too early or too much, it will jeapordize the establishment of the plant and likely affect the production years to come. And since, asparagus beds can produce up to fifteen years, it's worth it to wait a season. Look for mature, established plants to grow 6 to 8” spears. That means they are ready to harvest and enjoy. This will happen in spring and for only a short time. How to Harvest Asparagus Harvest asparagus by simply snapping the spears off of the plant. You can snip or cut if you like, but snapping is easy and works well without damaging the plant. Common Asparagus Pests and Diseases Keep an eye out for the asparagus beetle and the spotted asparagus beetle. Usually, hand picking the pests off the asparagus is enough pest control for home gardens. But, if you see a lot of beetles try an organic pest control product on the asparagus bed or try parasitic wasps. Asparagus rust is a common problem and is difficult to combat once it shows up. By planting resistant varieties, practicing clean gardening and making conscientious purchases you can reduce the risk to your plants of contracting this disease. Also, rotating your crops is a good idea to avoid many diseases. Crown rot may infect your asparagus plant. Try and avoid it by employing proper practices when transplanting. Tips and Tricks for Growing Asparagus Harvest asparagus before it begins to fern out. The fern is a natural habitat that attracts the asparagus beetle. Be patient. This vegetable naturally takes a long time to produce. Pay attention to its special needs and it will likely reward you with tasty produce like no other. You’ll just have to wait a few years to get it.