Rich Gardens Organic Farm is a small, diversified farm that has been certified organic since 1989. The heart of our operation is cedar-framed raised beds that are intensively planted and in operation nearly year round. We also have larger plantings of asparagus, garlic, and potatoes of 2-3 acres.
We strongly believe in organic practices that are rooted in agricultural sustainability. We eliminate chemical inputs by using natural materials to build soil fertility. We avoid non-sustainable marketing practices by marketing directly to our customers.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of the project is to produce white asparagus while also keeping labor and materials costs at a minimum.
I began by learning as much as I could from relevant publications on white asparagus production. I had also previously attended workshops on asparagus production at the Piketon Center of the Ohio State Agricultural Research Center. The previous year I also attempted to produce white asparagus using the conventional method in the US.
I came to the conclusion that the use of an opaque plastic covering to produce white asparagus using this method, I decided to experiment using a practice that resembled the method most commonly used in Europe. I hoped that mounding mushroom compost over asparagus crowns would not only be workable, but more sustainable as well. I chose mushroom compost rather than other natural materials because it would produce a soil texture more suitable for the harvesting process. Mushroom compost is readily available and, being a waste product, relatively inexpensive.
When I initially discussed my experiment with Cris Penrose, Director of the Athens County Ohio Extension Service, I was strongly encouraged to proceed with this project. After I received the grant, he came to my farm to observe my practices, and together we planned the workshop that will be held this year and the field day that will be held next year. I also received assistance and encouragement from Karen Affeld of Rural Action, a multi-programmed non-profit agency in Appalachian Ohio, one of whose interests is the promotion of sustainable agriculture in our area.
I do not have any experience with the yields of other methods with which to make a valid comparison, and yields were not the focus of my experiment. In comparing costs and labor inputs, there are advantages and disadvantages to all methods. For example, removing plastic so that white asparagus can be harvested daily is cumbersome and time consuming (as well as being non-sustainable). On the other hand, using my method requires white asparagus to be harvested twice and preferably three times daily. In my workshops, I intend to discuss all of the advantages and disadvantages of various methods.
The results of the procedure were pretty much what I expected. However, the length of the asparagus spear was shorter then I hoped. Next year I intend to increase the height of he mushroom compost over the asparagus crowns in the hope that this will produce longer spears.
I learned that using mushroom compost (or any weed free compost) that is mounded over asparagus crowns is a viable option to produce white asparagus. It ahs favorably affected our farm operation by giving us one additional highly sought vegetable. The advantages include the premium price for which white asparagus can be sold and the high demand for this specialty crop. The use of compost (in contrast to the use of plastic) also has a highly beneficial effect on the soil, eliminating or reducing the need for fertilizer. The disadvantages are the initial costs of the compost* and increased labor inputs.
I would recommend my method to small scale growers who wish to use a sustainable system for producing white asparagus. Large scale growers would probably find it is more cost effective to use the conventional method of a plastic covering.
*I have just learned that the mushroom plant located in Jackson, Ohio, is closing, which means that mushroom compost will not be readily available to growers in our area. Asparagus growers who wish to use my method will need to carefully access the availability and costs (including transportation) of mushroom compost or other forms of compost.
I have informed OEFFA (the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) that I have received a SARE grant and briefly discussed what I intended to do with our local Athens Chapter of OEFFA. I have scheduled one workshop which will be hosted by the Athens County Extension Office on November 14th and will make arrangements with OEFFA to have another workshop at our statewide annual educational conference next March. I have scheduled a farm field day for April 22nd which would attract interested parties from the entire state of Ohio.
In the past my farm has received attention from several magazines and our local newspaper. I believe the farm field day will receive additional news coverage which I will forward to you next year.