Today we’re going to learn all about Asparagus. Boys versus Girls.




I don’t mean to boast, (but really I do) but I have quite a knack when it comes to growing asparagus.  For those of you who don’t know, Asparagus is one of the very few perennial vegetables around.  Asparagus is started either from seed or from tiny Asparagus crowns that have to be planted in a nursery bed, kept free of weeds and left to grow for several years before you can harvest from it.  So it’s not a beginner plant.  You don’t get any immediate satisfaction from it and it needs to be babied a bit in the beginning.

I’m sure you all know by now that I’m not a beginner gardener, so my success with Asparagus is due in no small part to my years of experience.  I’ve been growing asparagus for 6 years.

Those spears you see?  They were lovingly coaxed from the soil and picked just 2 weeks ago by some asshead professional Asparagus farmer because it sure as hell wasn’t me.  I’ve been growing asparagus for 6 years and I’ve received exactly one asparagus spear the thickness of a strand of spaghetti. Not even spaghetti.  Spaghettini.  

I suck at growing Asparagus.  SUCK!

This isn’t one of those blogger tricks where they pretend to be “not perfect” so everyone can relate to them.  Yes.  Bloggers do that.  Not me, but other bloggers.  Tricky bloggers.  This is a bona fide, I suck, moment.  I. Cannot. Grow. Asparagus.

Exhibit A.   This is the Asparagus I grew  a few years ago.



Luckily for me I know I can’t grow asparagus so when asparagus season rolls around I’m smart enough to go out and buy it when it’s in season instead of thinking mine will magically sprout from the soil.

Yet.  I’m going to try again this year.  This year, I’m going to start all over again and start asparagus indoors from seed.  (my original experiment was starting asparagus from crowns that I bought)  I bought the seeds for what’s known as an all male hybrid asparagus.




Because there’s boy asparagus and girl asparagus.  A girl asparagus plant will produce thinner spears because she’s concentrating on reproducing, which in this case means seed pods and therefore lots of asparagus babies. The only thing cuter than an asparagus baby is a Chinese cabbage baby.

Male asparagus plants on the other hand don’t care one whit  about making babies they just want to grow up big and strong themselves.  So they only concentrate on making big, thick spears.  Male plants don’t have to produce seeds so none of their energy goes towards producing them. It only goes towards making spears.

So I bought “Guelph Millennium” asparagus seeds which produce only all male spears.  These are fairly new on the market and were developed just over the hill from me at the University of Guelph.  It took 12 years for them to develop this seed.  So it should be foolproof.  Although these seeds haven’t met this fool.

They are your regular, plain green variety of asparagus plants.  WHITE asparagus is the same thing incidentally. It’s just been grown in darkness which means it doesn’t develop the green colour because it doesn’t develop chlorophyll.  Purple asparagus is a variety of asparagus that grows purple all on its own without doing anything special to it. The same way some tomato varieties are different colours.

The other thing about all male hybrid asparagus plants is they don’t self seed which in the case of a hybrid is good. When a hybrid plant self seeds you don’t get an exact reproduction of the original plant, you get a version of the original plant which is always a weaker, worse version.  With female plants you constantly have self seeding happening which is why your asparagus bed will spread so quickly, but it’s spreading with an inferior product.

By the way.  Just for fun, there are other people (professional people from Universities and stuff)  who say Male plants do NOT grow thicker spears, they grow thinner spears and more of them, while the female plants grow fewer, thicker spears.  So basically the exact opposite of what I’ve said.  I based my information on what OTHER professional people from Universities and stuff said.  No one can agree on the thick versus thin point which I find curious because I mean, it’s asparagus. How difficult can it be to figure out?

I’m leaning towards believing what I’ve said because I’m clearly very intuitive about asparagus.  I mean 6 years and one spear?  That’s an almost impossible feat that no other asparagus growing  has been able to accomplish I bet.

I’ll grow them indoors until they’re transplantable and then I’ll move them outdoors to their final location in a raised bed filled with compost.  I’ll test the soil pH, plant them properly on little mounds of soil and stare at them hopefully.

For the next 6 or so years or so.  If yet again I’m not successful, I’m going to do what anyone with brains would do. I’d just declare it a special variety.  Watch for Karen’s Invisible Asparagus coming to a seed catalogue near you soon.
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  1. Sigi says:

    Do male asparagus from seed return year after year, as the asparagus crowns are meant to do? (Mean because I too have harvested very few after 5 years- tho admittedly, have not babied them at all)

  2. Mindy says:

    I look at the crowns every year, but you need a large designated space. So, every year, I put it off until, “next year.”

  3. cindy says:

    Listen to Jay people. He has it down. We get asparagus evert year and we do thing simular to him.

  4. Silvie says:

    i want to grow asparagus! another easy peasy recipe is to barely cook them in a skillet with a little water, then add a spoon of marmalade, shake it around and let it reduce into instant, orange glazed asparagus. pinch o salt and you’re good to go.

  5. Janmarie Ogle says:

    I only like it raw, but I have come to the conclusion that if one boils or steams a broccoli stalk to mush and prepares it the same way you do as for asparagus rolls …you could fool a lot of people…honestly!!!

  6. Ei Con says:

    Several years ago I was on a springtime business trip to Germany. My hosts asked if I liked asparagus. I said ‘Oh yes!! ‘ ( or maybe it was ‘Oh, ya!!). So they took me to a Spargelfest!! Visited a great restaurant where all 5 courses contained thick white asparagus. They looked male to me. ( ahem ).
    The best part was the German word spargel. Spargel. Spargel. Spargel. Spar–gel!.
    Great name for a chicken!
    It appears there are Spargelfests in Canada too:

  7. Mary W says:

    Doesn’t grow in Florida and I don’t like stinky pee and I like the thick ones but just do without – unless grilled with parmesan and STEAK. Have you made your beet, goat cheese, pear salad lately and is there any update on revision from previous recipe. It sounds so good that I will go get everything for tomorrows lunch.

  8. Christie says:

    Karen – could you tell us why some people have stinky pee after eating aspergas and other people don’t?

    Personally, I prefer the thinner stalks (from the market). Also, what’s your opinion on peeling off the bottom part of the stalk?

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      I’m with you about the skinny stalks, I think they are more tender. I only snap off the ends, never peel. My s-i-l does that and I don’t think hers are any better than mine but don’t tell her that!
      And I’ve always thought that there should be some scientific study done on asparagus pee. Surely there could be some useful information there? My husband and I have an ongoing contest to see how fast it gets through after dinner. OK so things are a little dull here in Waterdown . . .

      • Karen says:

        They’re not! You’ve just eaten old icky big asparagus. Find some local thick stuff now in a grocery store and you’ll be surprised at how tender it is. ~ karen!

    • Karen says:

      HI Christie – A recent study suggests that most people have asparagus pee. The people who don’t think they don’t have a different pee reaction, they have a different smell reaction. They can’t smell it! ~ karen

  9. Katchups says:

    So how do people have beds of Asparagus year after year if they just keep growing an inferior product every year? Do non-hybrids do that? Or do they keep growing after you cut them?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Katchups. They don’t actually grow an inferior product year after year. They *can* sprout inferior shoots if they reseed themselves. But those are just “voluntary” asparagus plants. The actual original crowns you plant are your main plants. They take 4 or so years to establish themselves and grow strong enough to produce lots of asparagus and can do so for 10-20 years. You cut your asparagus for a month or so during the summer then stop cutting to allow the plant to grow and gain energy for next year’s crop. ~ karen!

  10. KowboyK says:

    My asparagus bed is on year 3, I could have possibly harvested a few spears this spring, but chose to wait another year. I added 6 more crowns to the bed this year & plan to add 6-12 more next year
    (found at Wal-Mart & Lowes) I had no idea what I was seeing were male & female plants, makes more sense now!! Jay,, did not know about the Summer Solstice either, thanks for that info. For now, I too am headed to the Farmer’s Market!!

  11. rotflmao
    You might want to add a codicil to your will re the asparagus… You wouldn’t want it to go to just anybody. ;-)
    I do what I do with strawberries. I eat as much as I can possibly consume in season and then contemplate the seven circles of root vegetable hell the rest of the time. Canadaland!

  12. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Very interesting..I think I will let the asparagus growing to the Amish farmers here..

  13. Ruth says:

    I have never had (and probably will never have) asparagus because it’s neither grown nor sold here, but – man! – I flat out choked on this gem: “Although these seeds haven’t met this fool….” DWL!!!

    Happy invisible asparagus growing. :D

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      No asparagus? My condolences! Where in the world are you, if I may be so bold to ask??

      • Ruth says:

        I am over here in the sunny isle…. Jamaica, West Indies. We can grow almost anything in rural Jamaica, so I’m sure if someone managed to smuggle in asparagus seeds it would probably take off (since it just looks like a fern of sorts), but there’s this little thing about getting ‘plant matter’ past the custom officers….

        Something about the possible effect on native plants… probably hogwash, but who knows?

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        Well Hola Ruth, from sunny hot and humid southern Ontario! We’ve been to Jamaica 3 times (Ocho Rios, Negril, and a cruise ship stop which allowed us to hire a driver and tour around up in the mountains . . . gorgeous! We only gave him 2 rules, no straw markets and no ganga. Lol)
        Not sure I would be willing to smuggle seeds into the country for you. They do tend to get bent out of shape about things like that! And you’re right, we do have a house plant called asparagus fern but I don’t know if it’s in the same plant family.

  14. Tigermom says:

    I was soooooooo ready to congratulate you on your asparagus growing efforts.

    Now I have a deeper appreciation for the asparagus I buy and a bit more understanding for its price.

  15. Heather says:

    Do you think Karen’s Invisible Asparagus would still cause asparagus pee?

  16. Shirley says:

    Yeah it sucks. My husband has been trying for 3 years. First year they all died. He replanted and now 5 have one long skinny shoot each. Hopeful they will survive, they came through the worst winter in Nova Scotia anyone can remember so there is hope. Got a fence up to keep the chickens out too so that might help.

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