Growing Asparagus – High Value Crop

Vegetable growing in the Philippines is seasonal. Subsequently, profits from the vegetable industry can also be unstable. Availability of vegetables in the market varies throughout the year. Thus, vegetable prices also vary accordingly. Price of vegetable with high supply is low, and price of vegetables with low supply is high.

However, high-value vegetables maintain their price through out the year with the only exception of the event that the vegetable is in excessive supply in the market. These high-value vegetables include asparagus, lettuce, cauliflower, sweet peas, celery and broccoli.

Asparagus varieties in the Philippines include the green types Mary Washington and F1UC 157 and the white types Argenteuil and F1 Larac. This vegetable is best grown in the highlands such as Baguio and the Mt. province and the elevated areas of Mindanao such as Bukidnon.

Harvested areas in the Philippines for asparagus has been significantly and steadily rising since 1990, from 262 hectares in 1990 to 1779 hectares in 2001, indicating the ever growing demand of asparagus in the Philippine market.

Growing Asparagus

Asparagus is grown by use of crowns that are raised from seeds in seedbeds. Seedbeds must be rich and well-prepared for planting. Small scale planting may raise crowns by hand drilling seeds 18 to 30 cm apart in seed beds. For commercial production, crowns may be produced by use of mechanical drillers which drop one seed in a hill at about 8 centimeter intervals. Depending on cultivation tools, rows may be set 120 to 180 cm apart. Asparagus crowns must be allowed to grow for one full growing season before they are planted in a permanent field or bed.

Short-handed forks are used to dig and lift crowns. This should be done carefully as to avoid injuring the plants. Newly-dug crowns should be planted immediately to prevent dehydration. Dehydration often results to slow growth. Crowns are planted approximately 15 to 33 cm deep depending on the characteristics of the soil. Crowns must be placed with the buds up, and 5 to 7 cm deep in the furrows at planting time. A space of 60 to 90 cm should be allotted between plants in a row and rows must be 120 to 180 cm apart. Asparagus grown for bunched stalks, hilling up and wider spacing between hills and furrows should be given.

Shallow cultivation helps in the control of weeds in the seedling stage. Deep cultivation by hoe is ideal, provided great care is taken to prevent injuring the roots.

It is recommended to pass the disc and harrow between the rows before growing begins, after the first year and in the succeeding years. Proper cultivations must be done to prevent the growth of weeds and volunteer plants. Proper irrigation must be made during the dry seasons. Moisture is very important in production of shoots. Intercropping is also recommended to produce more robust shoots. Recommended inter-crops are legumes that include peas and soy beans, leafy vegetables that include cabbage, lettuce and petchay, and root crops that include carrots, radish and sugar beets.

Recommended fertilizer for asparagus is a mix of 35 tons of compost and 400 kilos of complete fertilizer per hectare. 2/3 of this amount may be applied every year at the start of growth and the remaining 1/3 at the start of the dry season.

Disease and Pest Control

The only known pest of asparagus in the Philippines is the mealy bug, Ferrisia Virgata (Cockerell). This bug feeds on the foliage and green parts of plants which makes the plants prone to disease and retard the plant’s growth.

Pest control includes removal and burning of infested portions of the plant, and spraying Sevin on the plants every two weeks. Label instructions must be followed accordingly.

Two common diseases that affect asparagus are asparagus rust and fusarium wilt. Asparagus rust is caused by Puccinia asparagi. This disease is characterized by the presence of reddish-yellow specks on the main stem and branches. The specks eventually grow large as the disease develops. The whole plant then becomes reddish-brown or orange and subsequently darker.

To control asparagus rust, lime sulfur may be sprayed while the plant is still moist with dew every two weeks. It is important to read the manufacturer’s label for the correct dosage.

Fusarium wilt is characterized by brown discoloration on the surface of the spears. Spears affected also become stunted and wilted. There is no known effective control of this disease. It is advised to avoid planting in infested areas and to use crowns that were raised in disease-free beds.

Harvest and Storage

The first harvest of asparagus must be done after the plants have had two full growing seasons in a permanent bed. Harvest is then done everyday during the cutting season for eight to fourteen weeks. Hot weather accelerates the growth of asparagus. It is advisable to visit the field regularly.

Asparagus is harvested by use of a sharp knife. One hand should hold the shoot and the other should be used to insert the knife to the depth of approximately two to five cm below the soil surface. The knife is inserted outward to cut off the stalk. One thrust is sufficient. The shoots should be washed and cleaned before they are bundled and packed for transport to market.

Return on Investment

An established bed may produce profitable yields for fifteen to twenty years according to the care it receives. Major costs in growing asparagus is the initial investment which includes labor costs, fertilizer, soil preparation costs, fungicides and insecticides, equipment, and land costs.

Wholesale markets for asparagus include roadside stands, independent stores, supermarkets, chain stores and vegetable repackers. It is important to be aware of specific trimming, grading, packing and handling requirements of these markets. Understanding these requirements is important when obtaining a market before harvest and delivery, especially for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and wages for hiring workers to plant and harvest crops.

Where to get seedlings:
Seeds World
Tel: (02) 365-4292
Mobile Nationwide: 0921-8034343, 0906-2905774, 0906-4914655, 0908-4204883, 0928-3152162
Email: [email protected]

Author: Carmela Abaygay, Marid Digest, photo from www.freedigitalphotos.net

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