Saving asparagus seeds, and starting baby asparagus plants

I may be suffering from a pathological compulsion to save and start seeds.

Yes, I know it’ll be at least several years from the time of initially planting asparagus seeds, until a person can reasonably expect to harvest any.

Yes, I’m a renter without a permanent home and permanent patch of soil where I can plant my asparagus, and know that I’ll be able to harvest it for many years to come.

No, I probably don’t have enough space for a forest of the giant Christmas-tree ferns that asparagus usually becomes by the end of the season.No, I don’t have any experience growing asparagus from seed.

No, I don’t have any idea what variety these seeds are, how well they’re reputed to do in my region, what their origin is, or anything else a gardener might reasonably want to know before starting a long-term relationship with these plants.

But did any of the stop me from saving and planting asparagus seeds?

Of course not!

A bit of the back story here: last summer, I purchased 2 crowns of what was labeled as Jersey Knight, an all-male variety that is not able to reproduce on its own. (Male plants produce the thicker and more desirable spears.)

But one of the plants had red berries that contained seeds — something that an all male species should not be able to do.

I consulted a more experienced gardener and we discussed the possibilities. A transgender or intersexed plant? (The world of plant sex and gender is far more complex than the human one.) Vestigial seeds that ultimately wouldn’t be fertile? (Can male plants even do that?) A labeling error at the nursery? We decided to wait and see.In September, I gathered all the berries and brought them inside to dry. I’ve heard of people processing them while they’re wet, but I opened one and found a sticky, pulpy mess, so I decided to wait.

Warning! The berries are said to be poisonous to humans. Wash your hands after handling them.

Another warning! Store them someplace pest-proof while they dry. They are apparently not poisonous to mice, who helped themselves to a good portion of my drying berries.

I returned to my now-dry berries in March. (I could have done this sooner, as they were dry within a month, but I had lots of winter projects.) They were still a bit sticky, but easier to pull out of their dry shells and separate out.

Here is a shot of the berries with a penny for scale:

The number of seeds per berry varies a lot. Some have one and some have 6 or more. Here is a shot from when I first cracked one of these open. You can kind of see the sticky texture on the seeds. Below is a pic of the seeds I got out of this one:

Not all of the seeds are good — some were misshapen black seed-like material that crumbled when I rolled it between my thumb and finger. But honestly, never having done this before, I was just going by instinct about what a viable asparagus seed would look like: round, solid black, firm, not crumbly.

Here is a portion of what I collected:

Next it was time to plant some of these babies, and see what happened.

Compared to my other seedlings, these had a long and somewhat uneven germination period. Unlike my tobacco seedlings who poked their heads up within a few days, it was exactly two weeks before the first asparagus baby emerged. (Some stragglers are still coming up now, over a month later.)

These first babies are seriously cute. I know it’s hard to see, but they look like teeny little asparagus like you’d see in a grocery store, but only as thick as a standard pencil lead, and 2-3mm tall.

I’m going to post the series of photos of their lives so far.

Planting date: 4/11/19

First up: 4/25/19

First photo date: 4/26/19

Second photo date: 4/29/19

Third photo date: 5/4/19

Today’s photo date: 5/16/19

I should probably transplant them soon so they have more space, but they seem so thin and delicate that I don’t want to injure the stems. I’ll post an update when I move them to a bigger container.

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