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Spearhead an effort to make bed of asparagus

BY KEITH STANGLER

Q:Our family loves asparagus and I would love to start my own bed. What do I need to do?

A:Prepare a planting bed in late fall or as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. Spread lime if your soil is acidic, then dig in lots of compost and well-rotted manure two feet into the ground. In early spring, spade a 8-to-10-inch deep trench in this bed and set in the root crowns, 12 inches apart. Gradually fill the trench once the plants are actively growing, taking care not to cover the growing tips.

Mulch with an organic material such as compost that will feed the soil and keep the weeds down. If you do not mulch, weed regularly. If you have acidic soil, spread lime generously on either side of the bed a few days before fertilizing in the spring. Fertilize again after the harvest period. Mulch thickly before winter sets in, but pull the mulch aside in the early spring so the ground can warm up faster.

Do not harvest any spears the first year of growth from root crowns (or the first two years of growth from seed). Harvest from root-crown plantings on the second spring. If the spears are skinny, don't harvest them at all. Start picking in earnest the third year and never miss that spring fertilizing. Cut the spears just below the ground level when they are about a little finger's thickness. Leave enough skinny ones to grow into ferns that will nourish the plant. Don't harvest at all after mid-summer.

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Q:How will I know when my turnips are ready to be harvested?

A:Harvest both turnips and rutabagas on or before their maturity dates as roots that grow too big will become tough. This is especially true for turnips. Harvest rutabagas for storage after they have been hit by a few frosts. This will be the last thing in your garden to harvest. Store them like you would carrots, in a very cold, wet sand or sawdust.

Q: What are nematodes?

A:Nematodes are roundworms or eelworms, too small to see with the naked eye. They live in moist soil, in decaying organic matter or as parasites in living plant tissues. They can travel only a short distance in the soil by themselves but are spread when surface water moves infested soil. They are very prevalent in sandy soils in the southern states but here they live during the winter in perennials and can also survive free in the soil.

Keith Stangler of Byron is a horticulturist. If you have a question for him, call Post-Bulletin Special Sections Editor Jerry Reising at 285-7739 or (800) 562-1758.

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