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To Cultivate Asparagus
From- The Household Cyclopedia, 1881
That part of the garden which is longest exposed to the sun, and least shaded by shrubs and trees, is to be chosen for the situation of the asparagus quarter. A pit is then to be dug five feet in depth, and the mould which is taken from it must be sifted, taking care to reject all stones, even as low in size as a filbert nut. The best parts of the mould must then be laid aside for making up the beds.
The materials of the beds are then to be laid in the following proportion and order:-
Six inches of common dunghill manure; eight inches of turf; six inches of dung as before; six inches of sifted earth; eight inches of turf; six inches of very rotten dung; eight inches of the best earth.
The best layer of earth must then be well mixed with the last of dung. The addition of salt to the earth of asparagus beds, especially in places far from the sea, is suggested by the natural habits of the plant.
The quarter must now be divided into beds five feet wide, by paths constructed of turf, two feet in breadth, and one in thickness. The asparagus must be planted about the end of March, eighteen inches asunder. In planting them, the bud or top of the shoot is to be placed at the depth of an inch and a half in the ground, while the roots must be spread out as widely as possible, in the form of an umbrella. A small bit of stick must be placed as a mark at each plant, as it is laid in the ground.
As soon as the earth is settled and dry, a spadeful of fine sand is to he thrown on each plant, in the form of a molehill. If the asparagus plants should have begun to shoot before their transplantation, the young shoots should be cut off, and the planting will, with these precautions, be equally successful, though it should be performed in this country even as late as July. Should any of the plants originally inserted have died, they also may be replaced at this season. The plants ought to be two years old when they are transplanted; they will even take at three, but at four they are apt to fail.
In three years the largest plants will be fit to cut for use. If the buds be sufficiently large to furnish a supply in this manner, the asparagus shoots should be cut as fast as they appear, otherwise they must be left till the quantity required has pushed forth; in which case the variety in color and size prevents them from having so agreeable an appearance. An iron knife is used for this purpose.
The asparagus-bed now described will generally last thirty years; but if they be planted in such abundance as to require cutting only once in twenty-seven years, half the bed being always in a state of reservation, it will last a century or more. The turf used in making the beds should be very free from stones.
Make the bed quite fiat, five feet wide, of good soil, without any dung, long or short; sow it with onions. Then sow two asparagus seeds (lest one should fail) about one inch deep, near each other; twelve inches each way sow two more, and if the spring is cold and dry let the weeds grow until rain comes. In October cover the bed with manure or rotten hot-bed. The next spring remove the weakest of the two plants, and keep the bed free from weeds. To raise seed, select the thickest stems; after blossoming enough. take off the tops to make the seed strong. This is also the best way to raise double tenweeks and Brompton stocks. Six pounds are sufficient for any strong plant; setting them to flower near double ones is of no use. The excess in petal arises from cultivation, and transplanting into rich soil; wild flowers are seldom double. Keep all small seeds in the pod until you sow them.
To force Asparagus.
The pits in which succession pines are kept in the summer have at bottom a layer of leaves about eighteen inches deep, covered with the same thickness of tan, which becomes quite cold when the pines are removed. In one of the pits should be spread over the entire surface of the old tan a quantity of asparagus roots, and cover it with six inches more of tan, and apply linings of hot dung, and successively renew it round the sides, keeping up thereby a good heat. The above mode was practised in the middle of December by Mr. William Boss, and in five weeks the crop was fit for use. As soon as the shoots made their appearance, and during the daytime be took off the lights, introducing as much air as possible, which gave them a good natural color, and the size was nearly as large as if they had been produced in the open ground at the usual season.
To insure perfect success, it is expedient to have good roots to place in the bed, the usual plan of taking them from the exhausted old beds of the garden is bad. If they are past their best and unfit to remain in the garden, they cannot be in a good state for forcing. Young roots, four years old from the seed, are much preferable: they are costly if they are to be purchased every year; but where there is sufficient space a regular sowing for this particular purpose should be made annually, and thus a succession of stock secured.
To render Asparagus more Productive.
In the formation of beds the male plants only should be selected, which may easily be done by not planting from the seed-bed until they have flowered. When the plants are one year old transplant them into the other beds, at six inches distance; let them remain there until they flower, which will be in most of them in the second year put a small stick to each male plant to mark it, and pull up the females, unless it is wished to make a small plantation with one of them to prove the truth of the experiment. Towards the end of July, especially if it be rainy weather, cut down the stalks of the asparagus, fork up the beds, and rake them smooth. If it be dry, water them with the draining of a dunghill; but, instead of leaving them round, leave them rather flat or hollow in themiddle, the better to retain the water or rain. In about twelve or fourteen days the asparagus will begin to appear, and if it be dry weather continue watering once or twice a week. By this method asparagus may be cut about the end of September; at which time the hot-beds will succeed this, so that by making five or six hot-beds during the winter, a regular succession of it may be had every month of the year.