Putting the A in SAcrAmento VegetAble GArdening!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Waterlogged and Windy Backyard
Dear Southern California: Supplying you with a clean, fresh, plentiful supply of water this year will NOT be a problem. Signed, A Waterlogged Northern Californian.

Plenty of puddles and minor storm damage (as the photo to your right will attest) this morning at the Bird Back 40, where rain continues to fall off and on (mostly on). As I write this, levels on the Sacramento River are near historic highs thanks to record releases from the bathtub that is Shasta Resevoir up north in Redding. Discovery Park at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers is under five or six feet of water, but will within flood thresholds. Bypasses in Colusa and Yolo County are filling up fast.

This doesn't happen every year mind you -- but this is a special year. We've zoomed past record rainfall amounts for the Sacramento area and March is barely half over with another gully-buster or two yet to come. Although our systems of reservoirs, bypasses and levees were built for exactly this purpose and are standing up to the deluge -- the real danger is if a Pineapple Express moves in and melts a record-high snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Smilin' Bob
What happens then? Well kids -- as the smiling lady says in those late night commercials for Extenze: "This Could be Fun!!!"

What does all this rain activity mean? Well -- it doesn't mean we're working on gardening projects in the backyard -- that much I can tell you. One would need the services of a canoe to reach certain parts of the yard at this point. But I'm pleased to announce that we did complete one last project just before the first raindrops began to fall last weekend (it's been raining ever since).

So -- what's new? Glad you asked! ASPARAGUS! Yes -- if we didn't have enough to tend too in the Bird Back 40 -- we've added something new. The wife that is Venus finally got her Asparagus patch -- and just in the nick of time too.

Honestly? I thought our window of acquiring and then planting asparagas roots had passed. That was the initial objective -- after all -- of our trip a few weeks ago to the Most Romantic City in the World (Stockton). Lockhart Seeds was closed on that day -- but even had it been open -- we would have discovered that they sold out of asparagus roots in JANUARY (heavy demand for asparagus this year, kids).

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply-Nevada City
Although I thought I would be forced to abandon the "asparagus quest," fate intervened in the form of Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Did they have asparagus roots in stock? Why, yes they DID! Not just any asparagus roots mind you -- but the exact varieties that the wife wanted: Jersey Knight and Purple Passion.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Peaceful Valley was once again out of All Red Seed Potatoes and a fertilizing supplement we use in the garden called Omega 2000. Any rumor that you hear that those two items are finally in stock is just that: a rumor. I believe I'll capture Bigfoot on camera before I see All Red Seed potatoes again. But I digress -- we did have asparagus.

As it turns out -- the acquisition of asparagus roots last Saturday would be just half the battle. A whopper of a storm was moving in. The rain was expected to start falling late Sunday afternoon. That gave me precious hours to not only build a raised bed for our asparagus, but irrigate said bed, fill it with planter mix and prepare furrows for planting.

Distant Asparagus Planter Bed
Bill Bird loves a challenge like this one.

So -- last Sunday -- the last dry day that I can remember -- I found myself in the Home Depot lumber yard at a very early hour -- purchasing the supplies that I would need for a 5X3 raised planter bed. This is yet another example of a low-cost, easy to assemble, raised bed that I featured here in the blog a few years ago. I've built quite a few of these now and can snap them together fairly quickly.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of DOOM and GLOOM that falls upon a gardener when feeling the first drops of rain while rushing to complete a gardening project. The asparagus roots could not wait -- they had to go in TODAY. But Mother Nature wasn't cooperating. The first drops started to fall before I could fill the bed with soil.

Jersey Knight & Purple Passion Asparagus Crowns
All sorts of thoughts go through your mind when faced a conundrum like this. Will the wheel on the wheelbarrow get so caked with mud that it won't move during the planter mix transfer process? Have I destroyed yet another pair of gardening shoes (yes)? Is asparagus really worth the hassle? The answer to that question isn't known yet -- because -- to be quite honest -- I've never grown asparagus before. Have you?

Fortunately? The rain that started falling at that point was just a tease. It stopped a few minutes later which allowed us to resume work on moving planter mix from one side of the Back 40 to another (the wife is a real pro with a shovel).

Planting Asparagus Crowns
The method of planting asparagus crowns is quite unique. It's a little like planting seed potatoes in that you're digging furrows from one side of the bed to another. It's also like planting a fruit tree in that you want to form a ball or crown under each asparagus crown to give the roots something to rest on.

It was -- at this point -- where the rain suddenly began to fall in earnest. Venus and I had completed the process of planting about half the bed when we suddenly became aware of raindrops hammering down on the nearby patio cover. Mother Nature wasn't kidding this time. The big tease was over. The rain was here to stay.

It's amazing how quickly two determined (insane is another good term to use here) gardeners can move when getting pelted with a serious amount of rain. Let's just say that are furrows weren't exactly "perfect," nor were the balls carefully placed under each asparagus crown. We were in a "hurry up and plant" moment -- and did finally finish the job -- before paddling back to the safety of the nearest concrete walkway.

We were both soaked -- cold -- muddy and tired following this wonderful experience. And although I'd like to report some gardening success with a photo of growing asparagus crowns -- it will require some time and quite a bit of rain drainage before we can reach that particular spot again anytime soon.

I've since come to learn that planting asparagus crowns is a bit of a gamble. Not every crown is guaranteed to sprout. Indeed -- other gardeners have reported 100% crop failure with past planting attempts. Growing asparagus also requires patience. We won't see any kind of a harvest this year -- and while next spring might yield a few tasty spears -- we've been informed it won't be much.

But in Year 3? If everything works to plan (which it doesn't)? Asparagus will be on the Bird menu of gardening success.

Who could ask for more?


Fred Hoffman said...

Two of the most common mistakes people make when planting asparagus: 1) they cover the crowns too deeply initially. Dig a 10-12" deep trench, cover the crowns (barely) add more soil to cover the emerging shoots (barely) continue this slow covering process. 2) Harvesting too soon. Don't harvest during the first two or three years. let any spear remain that is less than the thickness of a pencil.

Jenn's Cooking Garden! said...

How exciting! I was thinking of growing Asparagus, but started a strawberry patch instead! Growing Alpine strawberries from seed. We are planning a trip to Peaceful Valley soon, cant wait!

Kristy said...

Yum, asparagus!

Is Peaceful Valley's Omega 2000 the liquid fertilizer formerly known as Omega 6-6-6 or 1-5-5? My old bottles are almost gone and I didn't realize they had changed the name OR that they had supply delays. I was just hoping to buy online and run up Grass Valley to pick up the order!

Bill Bird said...


Yes, Omega 2000 was once called Omega 666. And now they're having further labeling issues, which caused PVFS to pull it off the shelf. They have the stuff in stock from what I understand. They just won't sell it to anyone. So, guard what you have carefully. I don't know when it will go back on the shelves -- if ever.

Fred -- we did our best on the trenching (the photos will show that), but a week's worth of rain does havoc on trying to keep it open. I'm hoping there won't be too much damage.

Jenn -- email me when you go up. I might have you try to pick up some stuff for me that wasn't in stock when I was there.


Laura Bell said...

I've been trying to get up to Peaceful Valley forever it seems ! First there was Christmas, then I discovered the one thing I really had to have wasn't stocked 'til mid-February. And there were my son's basketball games (all in Sac, of course). Then it snowed up there. And snowed. And now Little League season has begun. SIGH.

Every time I'm tempted to put in asparagus, my husband reminds me of a) our seriously limited space, b) the inexpensive stuff we could pick up next time we drive through the Delta, and c) that planting our own asparagus means NOT planting something else we really want like tomatoes, peas, or ground cherries. Someday, though. Someday.

Christine said...

Impressive that you were able to get photos while in such a rush. I admire you for planting asparagus (I have never had the guts) and will eagerly follow your progress. Good luck!

Greg Damitz said...

The frosts took care of my asparagus. I got one spear earlier this spring the the last frost took care of that plant. If I don't see some green coming up in the next few weeks they're coming out and I'll plant an annual vegetable.