Sandy Shore Farms is owned by the Konrad and Wall families in Norfolk County, Ontario. Located on the north shore of Lake Erie, we have been in the farming business for over 60 years. We are Canada’s largest grower and shipper of fresh asparagus, handling product from approximately 750 acres – 1/3 of Ontario’s total! Along with asparagus we also proudly grow fresh cherries and bell peppers.
At Sandy Shore Farms we produce all of our own asparagus crowns to establish and maintain our acreage and are proud of the quality of the crowns which we produce.
In most cases, growers establish an asparagus field by planting asparagus crowns. This is by far the simplest way to establish asparagus and the method most likely to ensure a successful planting. These crowns are started from seed and are grown in a carefully controlled nursery setting for one or two years before being dug and transplanted into their permanent location. The crowns we provide you with offer years of production in a relatively low maintenance environment and are well suited for chemical free operations and backyard enthusiasts.
Asparagus is a vegetable loaded with all sorts of nutrients! It is a great source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K and chromium. This herbaceous plant is is a rich source of glutathione - a detoxifying compound that helps breakdown carcinogens and other harmful compounds. It's also packed with antioxidants, is a brain booster, and a natural diuretic!
Commercial Size: Up until approximately 6 years ago, most Ontario growers were planting 10-11,000 crowns/acre. Recent research suggests that there can be significant benefits to increasing this planting rate. Most Washington State asparagus fields are now being planted at between 18-22,000 crowns/acre. We are planting our rows on 4’ centres with approximately 8-9” between the crowns. This gives a population of about 15-16,000 crowns/acre.
Smaller Scale: For smaller backyard plantings, and where the space is available, plant your crowns in a single row approximately 12" apart in the row. This provides opportunity for the sun and wind to keep the ferns dry and less prone to foliar diseases. Where a second row is required, and again, where the space is available, keep 5' between the rows. So, for every foot of row, you require 1 crown.
Where you are planting simply to feed your family, assume that each plant can produce approximately ¼ to ½ lb. of asparagus spears in a typical May/June harvest season. For a typical family of 4 who enjoy eating asparagus, a planting of 50-100 crowns will give you plenty of asparagus to eat fresh and then some to freeze or can.
Typically, asparagus crowns are lifted or harvested from the nursery beds in late March or early April prior to them beginning to sprout. In most cases, we prefer to transplant our crowns as soon as possible after they have been dug out of the nursery. However, some research suggests that there may be value in storing the crowns until ground temperatures warm up suggesting that placing this transplanted crown into cold soils where it will sit may be harmful to the crown. If it is not possible to plant your crowns soon after having been dug or you decide to wait until the ground warms up, they should be stored where they will be protected from frost, sun, wind and moisture and in as cool of a condition above freezing as possible. As well, they should not be stored in too deep a pile to reduce the possibility of heating and sprouting within the pile.
Keep in mind that asparagus requires adequate soil drainage – it does not survive under prolonged wet conditions. Well drained sandy loams are ideal soils for asparagus however, we are aware of highly successful plantings on well drained heavier clay soils as well. Your site should also be as free as possible from perennial weeds. These can be difficult, if not impossible to eradicate once the field has been planted to asparagus.
Over the last number of years, we have attempted to plant our crowns into trenches dug approximately 7-8” deep. Most asparagus crowns are now planted using asparagus transplanters. These are nothing more than a 3 point hitch tool bar with 2 lister plows for opening trenches, seating for 4 (or 5), a hopper to carry crowns, closers to fill in the trench over the crowns and, in some cases, wheel driven fertilizer attachments. Other types of planters do work including the use of single furrow plows with manual placement of the crowns. For smaller plantations, simply dig a trench and place the crowns in the base of the trench.
Traditionally, it was considered important that asparagus be planted with the top of the crown (the dormant buds are on the top of the crown) facing upwards. Recent research suggests that this is not the case. Our own experience would validate this. It appears that it really doesn’t matter which way the crown faces when it is planted.
It has also been common practice to close the trenches over the asparagus only gradually over the course of the summer. This works well in a small planting. We suspect that this was originally done in order to deal with weed issues mechanically when herbicides were not as readily available for young asparagus plantings. This may be a better alternative in extremely heavy clay soils where the spears may have greater difficulty emerging from the soil. Our own experience in our lighter and sandier conditions is that the trenches can be completely closed immediately after planting.
Watering: As mentioned with respect to nutrients, asparagus is a natural scavenger. It develops an extensive root system which can effectively locate soil moisture – roots have been found as deep as 6’ in the soil. However, and especially in the first several years of growth, it is important that soil moisture be readily available. So don’t be afraid to moisten the soil around the crowns. Commercial growers often attempt to ensure that an asparagus planting receives approximately 1” of moisture/week either through rain or irrigation.
Fertilizing: Asparagus is a natural scavenger. It develops an extensive root system which can effectively locate and store various nutrients. Having said that, it is important that these nutrients are available in the soil surrounding the crown, especially in the first several years of growth. For smaller backyard plantings and where you do not have a soil test available, work approximately 1 lb. of a basic 20-20-20 soil fertilizer into the soil prior to planting for every 20’ of row. Asparagus also responds well to composts which can be added to the soil prior to planting as well.
INSECT PESTS: Where a problem, insect pests (primarily asparagus beetles, tarnished plant bug and occasionally, European asparagus aphid) can be managed effectively through a regular insecticide program. Keep in mind that there are extensive regulations in Canada relating to the safe and effective use of pesticides. You are required by law to follow these regulations. Always use extreme caution with any pesticides on asparagus as they can and do burn the crowns and foliage if not applied correctly.
There are a number of organic alternatives which have also proven effective at controlling these insect pests. These include organic insecticides such as insecticidal soap.
WEEDS: Unchecked weed growth in the first several years of an asparagus plantation can severely impact its long-term health. There are a number of herbicide products available which should enable you to maintain a relatively weed free field. Keep in mind that there are extensive regulations in Canada relating to the safe and effective use of pesticides. You are required by law to follow these regulations. Always use extreme caution with any pesticides on asparagus as they can and do burn the crowns and foliage if not applied correctly.
Alternatives to herbicides include hand weeding or the use of a straw or other mulch which will suppress weed growth.
FOLIAR DISEASES: Asparagus faces several foliar diseases (including rust and stemphyllium) which primarily affect the fern stage of asparagus and which can usually be managed through a regular fungicide spray program. Keep in mind that there are extensive regulations in Canada relating to the safe and effective use of pesticides. You are required by law to follow these regulations. Always use extreme caution with any pesticides on asparagus as they can and do burn the crowns and foliage if not applied correctly. This disease control program should begin approximately 6 weeks after spear emergence or when the spears begin to “fern out”.
Handled and maintained properly, an asparagus planting can result in healthy production and returns for 15-25 years. This is a crop where we all need to think long term. Having said that, we are firmly of the belief that the long-term success of an asparagus field is determined in its first 2-3 years of growth. Any steps that you take to enhance the health of your field in its early years will pay dividends down the road. Conversely, neglect or skimping early on can and will result in disappointing results.