Ever since I left home, I have always wanted homegrown asparagus, but have never had the space to grow it. This is how I solved the problem.
Listen while you read to “Sunset” from TPO’s “10 Strings” album since the work described in this post was always curtailed by the sun setting.
October 2012 – February 2013
I grew up with fresh asparagus from my father’s garden and happen to like it very much, so I was more than mildly disgusted at the stringy, rubbery stuff I obtained at great cost and a long walk from the supermarket when I went away to college. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really go “away” until I went to Japan as an exchange student my senior year, while the university I attended — SDSU — was a mere 10 minutes from my parents’ house. Nevertheless, since I didn’t have a vehicle, at least not until my second year, it might as well have been Japan.)
Ever since a former boyfriend taught me how to cook I’ve wanted my own garden and finally have one! The problem is that asparagus takes a lot of space and sun and attentive cultivation to grow well and is a perennial plant, which for the non-gardening-inclined means that it lasts indefinitely rather than dying off after producing something like the summer annuals (tomatoes, zucchini, etc.). I had tried over the past few years to grow asparagus in a tiny plot in the front garden at our place in Chinatown but it kept getting overshadowed by the guava tree and choked out by some sort of extremely invasive ground cover that some genius planted in the yard before we moved in that spreads aggressively by underground runners and tries to completely take over any ground it can find anywhere. That being the case, if I must have asparagus, the thing that made the most sense would be to grow it in a container.
Asparagus would be quite challenging to grow in a container unless it’s one giant-ass container, so that is what I set about building. Sometime in early October (2012) I hunted about on Craigslist and located someone getting rid of a number of wood pallets (that were not likely to be permeated with toxic stuff that would be difficult to eradicate) and bought a dozen or so of them. I’d read up fairly extensively on using second-hand wood pallets to grow organic vegetables in and these appeared to be safe, but just to be sure I thoroughly doused them in full-strength bleach (and ruined what at that point was a still half-decent pair of yoga trousers in the process), and then hosed them down well and let them dry in the sun. They ended up drying for quite a long time since it was a few months before I actually got around to building that planter.
First of all, I had a hell of a time working out where to place it since once it was built and filled it would be next to impossible to move unless I was in a position to hire a couple heisters and competent people to operate them, so I wanted to be sure to get it right. Positioning that enormous asparagus planter required figuring out a few other things first, such as where in the hell I was going to put my displaced citrus grove that the landlord had made me dig out of the place where those trees had been happily growing for the four years that we’d lived here, which would impact the location of the tomato plants I grow in big containers out back, and on and on.
Well, one afternoon I finally ended up with the necessary combination of events in which I had a too-small-yet-still-extant block of time on a weekend when I had at least some energy to finally roll up my sleeves and have at it. I found myself faced with an array of panel-like things in different sizes that I intended to attach together in an approximately rectangular shape, so I spent quite a bit of time trying out various pieces in various places until I finally settled on a preliminary design. I ended up running out of daylight before I got much done, but at least managed to get the two pallets that would form the bottom securely tied together and one end wall attached and some weed cloth tacked into place, but realized afterward that I wasn’t off to a very good start.
It’s a bit challenging trying to stick pre-fab parts of a non-homogeneous size together and come up with an approximate shape that needs to be at least reasonably tightly enclosed, but this was turning into a needlessly awkward mess and I’d be best off starting over. The next time I took a swing at it I put it off until there were only a couple hours of daylight left, and while I removed the end wall I’d attached in my previous attempt and corrected the design to one that made somewhat more sense, I ended up inadvertently destroying my staple gun while trying to attach more weed cloth, so that prematurely curtailed my efforts for that day. Shit….
The following weekend after further bankrupting myself buying a new staple gun, I took another shot at it and made good progress up until I ran out of hardware to stick it all together. I got all but the other end wall in place, but finishing it up would have to wait until I amassed sufficient funding to procure the remaining hardware I needed. It wasn’t much, so it was quite annoying having the project jacked up by just that one stupid loose end! We even had a nice, sunny weekend where I could have painted it had I been able to finish building it on Saturday.
It did seem rather demented to keep building such a big, expensive, permanent-installation-type thing while Chi and I were in the middle of getting divorced since it would be a total nightmare to have to dismantle and remove it in the event that I ended up having to cut and run, which is an all-too-real possibility. I really don’t want to have to give up my home any more than I want to continue to be stuck in a lousy marriage in which I am not only not getting my needs met and am being treated abusively, but also bled dry emotionally and financially. Nevertheless, my tried and true way to keep myself at least somewhat sane is to bury myself in a project, preferably one that involves strenuous physical labour and/or an intensive output of brainpower. Mindless busywork only makes me even crazier, and I’m already so desperately burned out on that shit that I can’t even bear to do the stuff that I must do anymore, so I continued building my “Noah’s Ark” for purple asparagus, and kept having to spend more and more money I didn’t really have on it.
At any rate, after I got past that month’s rent I picked up the remaining hardware I needed to finish constructing the planter. This also coincided with Chi’s acting work coming to a near standstill after a quite busy fall, which did nothing to improve my finances and forced me into having to go through a truly maddening, long-winded clusterfuck trying to get some abstruse problem resolved with Chi’s unemployment insurance. Brief history: we’d filed the original claim the previous summer and it got hung up on some damn thing with reporting one job he’d worked, and I never had any success getting through to the EDD office to find out WTF was the matter, so I just let it sit for several months rather than continue bashing my brains out against that particular brick wall.
As part of the agonizing, protracted nightmare with the EDD SNAFU, I had to get all the documentation of what work Chi had done over the past 18 months or so together and organized, as well as find the cryptic communication we’d received from the EDD alluding that there may be a problem somewhere, which involved having to turn my entire home office upside-down and sift through the huge mass of crap that had inundated it which I’d been too burned out to deal with and/or file away, and in the process made the immensely irritating discovery that I had in fact had the remaining hardware I needed for the asparagus planter all along, but forgot about it since the bag it was in had got lost in the vast pile of shit occupying the office floor! Fucking hell….
As luck would have it, the next weekend was not only a 3-day holiday weekend, but was also warm and sunny even though it was the dead of winter, so I finished building the asparagus planter as well as tacking weed cloth onto four extra wood pallets I had acquired in addition to the ones I used to build the big planter, and primed/painted all those things, plus an unfinished wooden desk-like thing I had salvaged off the street and planned on turning into a potting bench, and a nice vintage trellis bench we’d bought the previous fall at a yard sale. I used some leftover paint I’d had from when I remodeled the bathroom last summer (yes, it was exterior paint. Long story!) and while it looked quite dark in the bathroom as an accent color, out in the bright sunlight it was a very pretty medium nautical blue. It was especially nice on the trellis bench, which had looked a bit ugly and decrepit before.
Ok, so now I had this ginormous planter, and it was the ideal time of year to set out asparagus crowns, but it would be a fair while before I’d be in a position to amass sufficient funds to buy enough organic potting mix to fill it with. I also planned on making the watering more manageable by putting a few ollas in it, and those were going to cost a small fortune too. This was turning into the biggest boondoggle in Panache Gardening history. I was really going to be gutted if I wasn’t able to get my asparagus started this spring and have to wait still another year. For reference, it takes two to three years after planting for asparagus to get sufficiently established to be able to harvest any worthwhile amount.
I finally ordered my crowns ( = year-old clumps of roots) in early April — quite late in the season as such things go — but still had no money to buy ollas or potting mix, so they sat in the fridge as spring turned into summer and summer resolutely made its way toward fall. Having no funding to fill the asparagus planter also meant that I had no money to get my tomato programme for the year in place either, and while having to get through the summer with no homegrown tomatoes is difficult to bear, at least they are much quicker than asparagus and I could just plant an assload of them in early fall (we can do that here in SoCal!), by which time I expect to be in better shape on several fronts.
Anyway, at some point Chi and I passed a hardware store that was having a going-out-of-business sale and I bought a few cu.ft. of small volcanic rocks at a reduced price to put in the bottom of the planter to ensure good drainage. We’d also over the past few months chopped up a fuck-ton of banana trash that had been occupying the back parking area in a most unsightly way, so I spread a giant landscaping trash bag’s worth of chopped-up banana trash on top of the lava rocks. That would at least slightly reduce the amount of money I’d have to spend on really expensive organic potting mix while decomposing and feeding the soil and plants.