Asparagus And Rhubarb
( Originally Published 1909 )
ASPARAGUS, one of the most delicious of all vegetables, is doubly prized because it can be had so early in the season. From old, well-established plantings, it can be cut for at least two months, or until other vegetables come in to take its place.
It is a plant anyone can grow, and it will grow almost anywhere. But it does not follow from this that asparagus is a plant that will take care of itself. True, it will live on and on, and I do not how that it would ever die out, though utterly neglected, but, in order to get a fine article, it is very necessary that the plant should be given care and cultivation. There is no vegetable that we grow that will better repay good treatment.
This vegetable seems to do best in rather sandy soils, but, as has been said, it will grow in all gardens, and do well if thoroughly manured, without much regard to the nature of the soil. Heavy soils will be greatly benefited by working sand into them, until they take on a friable quality. Plenty of food is the secret of successful culture, with the amateur.
Asparagus can be grown from seed, or from roots, which seedsmen furnish in one, two, and three-year-old sizes. I would advise planting roots, as you will get plants of cutting size a year or two sooner than you will from seedlings, and they will require less attention. Two-year-old roots are best.
Conover's Colossal is one of the standard varieties for planting at the north. The Mammoth is very fine flavored, tender, and prolific. There are several other kinds listed in the catalogues, but there is very little difference between them. Most kinds are good. There is not so much difference in quality as in size. As a general thing, the larger sorts are coarser than those of medium habit, but good cultivation will make almost any kind tender and fine flavored.
Plant the roots in rows four feet apart, and two and a half feet apart in the row.
The crowns of the plants should be at least six inches below the surface. In order to get them deep enough, dig trenches to receive them, making due allowance for the extra depth required for the roots. Shallow planting is never satisfastory.
Make the soil very rich by working into it liberal quantities of well-decomposed manure. Cow-manure is better than anything else, in the line of fertilizers. Keep the ground free from weeds. Cover the rows with coarse manure in fall. In spring, fork this covering into the soil well, and add more manure. Keep the ground about the plants well cultivated throughout the season.
If the growth is strong, some may be cut the second season. But do not cut close, or later than the first fortnight.
Many advise a top-dressing of salt, each spring, believing that the flavor of the plant is improved thereby. I have never been able to see that any-thing was gained by this application, except in the way of keeping down weeds, and these will be effectually disposed of without salt if you cultivate the ground well. As I have said, more depends on high feeding than anything else.
The asparagus beetle often does considerable injury to the plants. An application of one part pyrethrum powder to five parts flour is advised, dusting it lightly over the plants.
Of late years, much harm has been done by what is generally known as " rust." The trouble really comes from a fungus which attacks the plants and spreads rapidly from spores. The best remedy I have any knowledge of is the Bordeaux mixture spoken of in the chapter on Insecticides and Fungicides. Spray it all over the plants, as soon as the presence of the fungus is discovered. If this is not done promptly the entire plant will soon take on a rusty, red look. Then the thing to do is to cut the plants off close to the ground, and burn the tops to make sure that no spores are left to vegetate next season. But this method should only be resorted to when other means of checking the difficulty fail, as the top is needed to complete the annual development of the plant.
A bed of asparagus will be found one of the most appreciable features of the home garden, and, well made, it is good for a life time, growing better with age if the soil is thoroughly enriched each year, and weeds and grass are prevented from crowding it. Whatever manure is used should be well worked into the soil on each side of the row—not simply spread on the surface. Get it down where the roots can get at it.
Another of the vegetables no well-regulated family can afford to go without is rhubarb. A pie made from tender stalks of it in early spring has all the deliciousness of an apple pie, and a flavor that the latter seldom has without the addition of spices. The housewife can make use of it in so many ways that she will not willingly be without it after having found out what can be done with it. She will consider it one of the garden standbys.
Rhubarb will, like asparagus, grow almost anywhere, and under all conditions, but, to get best results it must be given a deep, rich, mellow soil, and the soil must be kept rich, year after year.
Set in rows about four feet apart, and two feet or more apart in the row. Three feet would be better, if one does not have to economize space, as old plants make a very strong growth, and cover a large amount of surface.
Rhubarb is a gross feeder, and speedily exhausts the soil in which it is planted, there-fore manure must be used in very liberal quantities, or there will soon be a falling off in the size and quality of the plant. To be tender and delicate in flavor, it must make a rapid growth in spring.
Cover the roots with coarse litter in fall, and work this into the soil in spring, adding a generous amount of well-rotted manure from the barnyard, at the same time. Do this as soon as the frost is out of the ground.
Be sure to keep all flowering stalks cut off. If it is allowed to develop seed, the plant will throw all its energies into this performance, and next season you will be likely to have a greatly weakened plant as a natural consequence.
You can have rhubarb very early in the season by setting a headless barrel over a plant as soon as the frost is out of the ground, and banking up about it with horse-manure. The young stalks, from such forcing, will be extremely delicate in texture, and of the finest flavor, and will lack the acidity which characterizes the later growth.
Large clumps of roots may be taken up in fall, packed in boxes, and stored away in sheds where they will remain dormant for a time. Then take them to the cellar, give them a place where they will get some light and a moderate amount of warmth, and in a little while they will begin to grow, and from them you will get material for pies that will be highly enjoyable in midwinter.