Asparagus, now and some thoughts on bags in the garden

1. Think twice before surrounding your tree with an irrigator bag. You have probably seen green plastic irrigator bags at the base of the trunks of newly planted trees, whether along streets, in parks, or occasionally in residential yards. The idea is that you fill the zip-up irrigator bag with water which slowly drains down to the roots through small holes in the bag so that watering frequency can be reduced. The problem is that sometimes the holes clog and the water sits around the bark of the tree causing disease and rotting the trunk. Even when the water does drain through, the bark may remain moist, an invitation to fungus and insect infestation. Occasionally, you will see a bag or bags situated on the ground next to a tree. This is a more sensible practice since the water still percolates down to the roots without making potentially harmful contact with the bark of the tree. In any case, irrigator bags should be removed after the trees they are irrigating have been in the ground for no more than one year. Incidentally, the unsightliness of irrigator bags is enough of a reason why some gardeners would never consider using them.

2. Speaking of practices meant to reduce labor in the garden but having potentially deleterious effects, think twice before laying down landscape fabric or plastic meant to prevent weed growth. The problem with these weed barriers is they prevent gas diffusion – especially oxygen – down to the roots, keeping in mind that the feeder roots upon which a plant depends for absorption of water and minerals are found in the top few inches of soil. Remember that roots, in order to flourish, need oxygen as much as you and I. There is increasing confirmation that the rough wood chips produced by tree trimmers are the best soil covering you could ever want. In addition to suppressing weeds, their porosity does not inhibit oxygen diffusion into the soil. In addition, a crucial important side benefit of wood chip mulch is the constant mineral feed it provides so that conventional fertilization, whether of garden ornamentals or fruit trees, may not be necessary. And oh yeah, wood chip mulch is available free from tree trimmers who save the expense of going to the dump by depositing their load on your driveway.

3. If you are having problems with tree fruit being eaten by squirrels, birds, or deer, or disfigured or made inedible by disease or insect pests, consider fruit protection bags. Apples, peaches, nectarines, and tomatoes are among the fruits most often bagged. You can find such bags online, made from plastic or cloth, for twenty cents to a dollar per bag, depending on the material; many of them come complete with drawstrings and most are reusable. Some gardeners have also found zippered plastic bags meant for sandwiches or food storage to be equal to the task of protecting their tree fruit; if you use these particular bags, make small holes in their bottom corners to drain any moisture that accumulates inside. Even simple paper sandwich bags are advocated by some for fruit protection. There is also a general recommendation to implement this strategy early; as soon as most flower petals have fallen from your tree, enclose the remaining flower clusters with the bags of your choice.

4. If you have a sunny expanse of 800 square feet, you can grow enough wheat for at least 52 loaves of bread, one for every week of the year. To this end, you will need to plant the seeds of heirloom or ancestral wheats that yield a greater harvest than conventional wheats. Such seeds, otherwise known as wheat kernels or wheat berries, are available through the Heritage Grain Conservancy at Here, you can even find four varieties of “Ukraine grains.” The profit generated from their sale will be donated to a fund for Ukrainian refugees. Ukraine is to central Asia what the Midwest is to North America. The same unique loess soil is found in both areas, making them the bread baskets of their respective continents. In California, so-called spring wheat, when planted in January, is harvested in June or July.

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5. Plant asparagus now. During the first half of the 20th century, there were commercial asparagus farms from Van Nuys to Newhall, proof positive that our area is highly suitable for growing this crop. The advantage of growing asparagus, as opposed to other vegetables, is that it’s a perennial and will produce for up to 25 years, with good crops expected for 15. Dig trenches at least six inches deep and plant asparagus crowns or seedlings in well-composted soil at the bottom of the trenches. If you plant crowns (seedling bases and their one-year old root systems), firm soil around the roots and cover crowns with soil but do not fill the trench. As the plants develop, backfill trenches with more enriched soil, leaving growing tips exposed until the plants grow above the top of the trench. The first spring, refrain from harvesting spears and wait until summer or fall, when growth has turned completely brown, before cutting to the ground. The second spring, harvest for four to six weeks, and the third spring harvest for up to ten weeks. Harvest asparagus spears, which should be cut at an angle so as not to injure adjacent spears, below ground level. Refrain from harvesting spears whose diameter is less than that of a pencil. Asparagus is dioecious, in the manner of date palm, pistachio, ginkgo, and carob trees, meaning that it has separate male and female plants. Female plants are less robust since they produce seeds, sapping their strength. There are hybrid varieties, however, such as Jersey Giant, that consist entirely of male plants.

Have you had success with a dwarf fruit tree? If so, please write me about your experience. Everyone is invited to send questions, comments, and photos to

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