Asparagus growing workshop planned for Friday

PARKERSBURG – The West Virginia University Extension Service will hold a free workshop on how to grow asparagus at 10 a.m. Friday at the Old Staunton Pike Farm Market owned by Dan and Therese Stephens.

The farm is on West Virginia 47 near Walker just past the Crossroads General Store and Boy Scout Camp on the right. It is approximately 20 minutes from downtown Parkersburg.

Contact the Wood County Extension office for directions at 304-424-1960 or call Therese at the farm at 304-679-3585.

Lewis Jett, WVU extension horticulture specialist, will teach participants all aspects of asparagus production. The workshop is designed to help people interested in small scale asparagus production for backyard gardens.

Participants will learn about site preparation, plant variety selection, care of young plants, nutrient management pest management and cooking with asparagus.

A feature in the workshop will be the asparagus soup served for lunch. Participants can tour the high tunnel at Old Staunton Pike Farm Market.

Asparagus fresh from the garden is a spring treat and is among the most valuable of the early vegetables, providing spears every spring once the plants are established, said J.J. Barrett, WVU extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. For most home gardeners, a 20-foot row or 100 square feet of bed is adequate for a family of four. That’s equivalent to 20 planted crowns or 10 pounds of harvested asparagus a season. Farm owners Therese and Dan Stephens are excited about vegetable farming and hosting the workshop.

“Our mission is to encourage, provide and teach good nutrition and health by selling good quality plants to grow and produce to eat,” Theresa Stephens said. “We hope for a great turnout for the workshop.”

The Stephenses sell plants from their high tunnel.

“We are a high tunnel as opposed to a greenhouse,” she said. “We use no heating, but rely on the sun for the heat in the tunnel. This allows us to start growing sooner and extend the growing season later.”

The high tunnel at the farm was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s High Tunnel Grant program and is an educational attraction for visitors. The structure was part of a pilot project under the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels – also known as hoop houses – to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation friendly way.

High tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers, workshop officials said. High tunnels are used year-round in parts of the U.S., providing steady incomes to farmers and providing an opportunity to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers. Asparagus has many benefits, Barrett said.

“Asparagus is a long lasting, high yielding perennial for the home garden. It can last for 10 years or more, supplying a great early season vegetable for the family,” he said.

“Now is the time to plant healthy asparagus crowns to start your own asparagus bed,” said Stephens.

Asparagus remains in the same area for several years, so it is important to select the right spot and prepare the seedbed well, Barrett said.

“Asparagus does best in full sunlight and deep, well-drained, sandy or light-textured soils,” he said.

Asparagus plants can make a good border around the edge of a garden or along a fence, he said. Asparagus provides folic acid and is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, copper, vitamin A, iron, phosphorus and zinc, Barrett said.

The program will end with everyone eating asparagus soup and getting a tour of the high tunnel. Asparagus crowns will be available for purchase, and gardening and soil testing information will be available.

For more information, call Therese Stephens at 304-679-3585 or call Barrett at 304-424-1960 or jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu.