How to harvest asparagus

I bought some 3 years ago. Last year I ate a few spears only. This year I had maybe 10 (out of 12 crowns I bought, only about 6 were living!)
I looked on the web and I've seen everything from "cut off all spears before they fern out" to some mysterious directions. I can't figure out if I'm supposed to leave some to fern out!
But I have been, because I figure the plant needs it to create new spears next year.
Help?
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Betsy wrote:

Not knowing where you are all I can suggest is to Google for "growing asparagus".
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8
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You want to harvest it for eating? Then obviously you harvest it when it looks like what they sell in the market - tightly closed. Harvest only a few from each plant. Your harfest will get larger each year.
If you cut them all off before they 'fern out' throughout the season you'll kill the plant.
Harvest a few spears from each plant and then let the rest fern out to feed the crowns for next year's harvest. Topdress with a couple inches of composted manure this fall to nourish the roots.
--
Ann, gardening in Zone 6a
South of Boston, Massachusetts
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Look around for witnesses, snap them off, eat them right in the garden, cooking does not improve them beyond this and besides if you bring them indoors you might have to share.. Otherwise you take them till about the 3rd week of June here in CT. Letting any escape will limit production, taking too many from young plants might set them back a bit. So maybe you take from a strong plant all the spears until the 4th of July, from a weak one you might quit 1June. Then you let them grow up and fern out and you watch for asparagus beetles, their slate gray larvae and black eggs which you squish and rub off until the wasps come and take the rest. Add a few more crowns this year. Mulch heavily with leaf mold or woodchips or well rotted manure and keep the weeds down.
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I've had similar experience in Ohio. Over the years I have planted plenty, and they all came up, but most were not back the next year. Right now I have three that seem to be doing well, at least they send up spears each year, and the funny thing is they are at the end of the original row that doesn't get as much sun as the end where they all died!
I asked here and did some research, and the answer I got was to break off (they say don't use a knife) the spears that are finger thick, and those shoot up over a period of a few weeks, then stop harvesting when the new shoots are thinner. As someone above mentioned, the raw spears are quite good, and not all of ours make it into the steamer.
Betsy wrote:

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Betsy wrote:

I use my hand, breaking the spear just at (or slightly below) the ground. I keep picking until the spears start coming up quite thin, which means the underground "crown" is nearing exhaustion. Then I stop harvesting.
After almost 30 years of harvesting from the same planting, this year only seedlings came up. I'm afraid the record rainfall this past winter made the plants rot in my heavy clay soil. When bareroot plants are next available, I plan to replant.
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David E. Ross
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Betsy,
others have given great advice, so I won't bore anyone with more on how to harvest.
I will say that bare-roots are often undependable, my first planting 13 years ago... of 25 bare-roots, only 5 emerged. The same ( local) nursery the very next spring generously offered me a replacement of 25 more, of those, another 5 came up. So, out of 50 crowns, I got 10 living.
For those bare-root plantings, I followed the age old advice of trenching an 18 inch deep planting area, hilling in the trench,spreading the roots over the hills, backfilling to cover slightly, applying a composted manure in the fall and mulching heavily over winter. Not such a great response to a lot of hard work.
An elder acquaintance in town said to me, forget bare-root, you never know what you are going to get from dried -up roots from some-where-in-the-world, buy a 50-cent packet of seed and grow your own.
I took that advice, started from seed in deep grow-packs, and planted another 25 "seedlings" in a different place. For this planting, I set the seedlings just as I'd set any seedling in a vegetable garden, just used a bulb planter to create a hole to accomodate the seedling root balls.
That fall I built up a low stone wall around the perimeter of that bed ( took me all of an hour with rocks we already had on the property), and dumped loose raked leaves to mulch for winter. Next spring ( knowing I'd not be harvesting any the first year) I layered on a generous topping of composted stable cleanings from a neighbor. I added another layer of stones to the wall over the summer. Late summer we had wood to dress for firewood, the sawdust and small chips went on top of the manure, and then came more raked leaves.
The second year for the seedling crop actually blew me away compared to the bare-root planting. We did take a FEW spears of the seedling crop that second year, and starting the 3rd year we actually had asparagus to EAT.
Now I crop both plantings, the first one from bare root-stock comes in early and whets our appetites. The second crop comes on later ( it takes a while under all that mulch) and we have fresh asparagus now into July.
Moral of the long story is that planting asparagus from seed really DOESN"T take longer to first harvest, nor is it more back-breaking work, than starting with bare-root and digging halfway to china. My elder acquaintance was right and I've thanked him with fresh asparagus. My seedling crop is now just as deep as the bare-root planting, with less concerted effort, and MORE productive, for a longer time.
I HAVE discovered that I cannot trust my dog to leave the asparagus alone, she will harvest on her own if I don't get there first. Since she keeps the deer out of the yard, I have to consider her rations reasonable recompense.
Good luck with your asparagus, once it is established you'll be laughing at Supermarket prices. It just doesn't taste the same shipped from Honduras or Mexico and 4 bucks a pound!
Sue Western Maine

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