Asparagus blues

For years I postponed planting asparagus because of the commitment factor.

For years I postponed planting asparagus because of the commitment factor. It takes three years from the time you plant until you get a harvest. Who knew what could happen in three years? We could move, die or not even like asparagus by that time.

Then I started thinking how if I had just planted instead of postponing we would have been harvesting asparagus by now.

It’s kind of like that saying for planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. And so it is with asparagus. The best time to have planted it is three years ago. The second best time is right now. And so I planted asparagus.

That was 10 years ago, which means had it worked out we’d have been harvesting it for seven years now. But it didn’t work out. In their second year when they were all well over a foot tall I carefully mulched them with grass clippings. Green grass clippings. What an idiot.

Of course the clippings heated up and killed the asparagus. I was so disgusted with myself it was five years before I made the commitment again.

This was to be the year of our asparagus. Two years ago I planted, last year I weeded and mulched — with straw not green grass — and this spring was to be the first of many harvests to come. All winter long I derived unreasonable pleasure from thinking about our asparagus. Out there all snug beneath its bed of mulch just waiting for spring to come. At times I worried that the harvest might be too much for just Darcy and me. Cook books were consulted, room was made in the freezer and friends and relatives were promised a share in the bounty. All was ready. Spring finally arrived, but there was just one little problem. There was just one little asparagus. One! Out of 50 plants that went into the winter looking hale and hearty only one lone survivor is peeking back up out of the ground. And it isn’t even a big survivor. It’s just a skinny little thing. He’s up but he doesn’t look very happy about it.

Three years of care only to end in this! What happened to my formerly healthy plants? What kind of plant madness is this? I asked a few veteran gardeners but they haven’t been very helpful. They look at me is if I have just confided that I don’t know how to grow dandelions.

Then they talk about their 20-year-old hedge of asparagus and how they have been eating it for breakfast, lunch and supper for at least a fortnight and as they recall they simply threw some asparagus roots at the soil and that was that. Nope, they didn’t even bother with the trench method.

Apparently there’s not a lot of room to go wrong with asparagus, especially by year three. Well, unless you’re me. One asked with a twinkle in his eye if I was sure I had put the root end into the ground.

I haven’t given up hope entirely. Maybe the other 49 will rear their ferny heads yet. Maybe they’re just building up steam. When they do pop up the harvest will be even more incredible than I had hoped.

But I doubt it. Ah, well. That’s gardening for you.

My mother once excused the money she spent on plants by saying she didn’t have any other vices.

“It’s not like I go down to the casino and gamble my money away,” she told a fellow gardener.

The other gardener grinned at her and said, “You garden and you say you don’t gamble?”

She still laughs about that. And she still gardens.

She’s more into trees, shrubs and perennials than she is vegetables, but she did grow an asparagus once for ornamental purposes. It grew like a wild thing and made a beautiful stand. One year she put an artsy clay face at its feet so it looked as if the asparagus ferns were the hair. It looked fantastic. She too puzzles over my inability to grow what apparently thrives like a weed for everyone else. Sigh.

But that’s OK. I’m no quitter. I have decided to double down. Two dozen new asparagus roots have been carefully planted but in a different location.

Now I wait for 2014 to be the bountiful year of the asparagus.

Or for my other asparagus roots to rise like phoenixes from the ashes.

Of course I’m really hoping for both.

C’mon lady luck, be good to me ….

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace Country. You can read more of her writing at

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