Monday, March 24, 2014

Will asparagus grow in Florida?

When Ralph and I moved to Florida almost 30 years ago, we knew that gardening in the Sunshine State would be different then it was in New England. The books we read and experts we talked to insisted that certain plants simply wouldn’t tolerate the semi-tropical climate.

For the most part, they were right. I got used to springtime without forsythia, lilac and hyacinth blooms, and we planted loquats, carambolas and papaya trees instead of apple, apricot and sweet cherry trees.

Loquats taste a little like apricots 

While blackberries, mulberries, strawberries and blueberries do well in Central Florida, two of my husband’s favorite fruits do not. Red raspberries and black raspberries — we called them blackcaps on Cape Cod — refuse to tolerate our semi-tropical weather.

Red raspberries from MA

In the vegetable garden - Ralph’s favorite place - he still plants carrots, although they’re nothing like the ones he cultivated on the Cape. Carrots taste best when temperatures dip below freezing. Cold weather brings out their sweetness, especially if they remain in the ground during winter. On Cape Cod, we covered the carrots we grew with a thick layer of eelgrass, the best mulch ever. I’ve never tasted carrots so sweet.

Returning from the beach to unload a truck full of eelgrass for mulch (circa 1972)

 The property where we lived in New England had once been an asparagus farm, and wild spears would appear each spring alongside the more recently cultivated varieties my husband planted. Asparagus ranks high on my list of favorite vegetables so I was disappointed when we moved to Florida to learn that it was among the many plants that simply wouldn’t thrive here.

For years, we believed the experts’ decree and didn’t even try to grow asparagus. Then one day as I was browsing through the garden center at Wal-Mart, I noticed a display of asparagus crowns for sale. They were cheap — about three dollars for a bag containing six crowns. At that price, I figured we had little to lose. I bought three bags and brought them home. Shortly after, Ralph filled six 15-gallon containers with rich soil and planted three crowns in each pot.

My foray into the Wal-Mart garden center took place about three years ago. Ever since, we’ve enjoyed a springtime treat of homegrown asparagus. Although the spears we’ve harvested are thin compared to those we grew on Cape Cod, they haven’t been growing for as long either. Asparagus produces larger spears as its root system becomes better established.

Our own homegrown Florida asparagus

This past winter, Ralph emptied out all the asparagus containers to replenish the soil and see how much the roots had grown. It turned out they grew substantially. The store-bought bag that originally contained six crowns would no longer be big enough to fit even one.

Separating out asparagus roots to replant in individual pots

Since the root systems had become so well developed, Ralph decided to replant them individually in the 15-gallon containers. He must have timed the divisions right because within a few weeks, asparagus spears appeared and have continued to pop out of the soil ever since.

Asparagus thrives in 15-gallon containers alongside broccoli plants

There is no doubt that Florida gardening is different than gardening in northern climates. When experts insist something can’t be done, they’re often right. But not always. Our experience with asparagus has shown that sometimes it’s important to follow your instincts. As the poet Edgar Guest once wrote, “Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied that ‘maybe it couldn’t,’ but he would be one who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.”

We tried. And we did it!

1 comment:

  1. I've found my crowns did okay for about two years, then just croaked. Asparagus grew wild where I grew up, so the Florida asparagus is disappointing. Oh well, we have other wonders down here!