The size of the actual vegetable plot is often problematic, and the problem varies each year. Some years the thing seems to be enormous and you just can't fill it or find the time to tend it, and other years the opposite is true.
If your garden plot has been too big to handle in the last few years you really are quite lucky. Now is the time to turn over a portion to perennial herbs and vegetables, a luxury many can't afford the space for.
Homegrown asparagus is a delight nearly impossible to duplicate. Asparagus can be planted from seed but it may be three years before the first harvest, so buy a bunch of 25 year-old or two-year-old crowns, readily available now in plant and hardware stores. They are usually under $5 a bunch, and you can get a small crop as early as next year and good crops each year after.
When you get the roots home, gently untie them and put them in a large bucket of water so that they will have plenty of room to absorb water for maybe two hours. While they're soaking prepare the bed.
Because they will ultimately prefer to be under a fairly deep layer of soil, dig a trench about a foot deep and eight inches wide, and allowing for a good 12 to 18 inches between crowns. You don't want to set down roots on hard-packed soil, so if that's what you're hitting at 12 inches, take a garden fork and loosen the bottom of the trench about eight more inches.
If your soil is not rich and loamy, add about two inches of well-rotted manure or good aged compost. Or buy a bag of sheep manure from your nursery. Cow manure will do, but sheep manure has more nitrogen and nutrients. And consider the source: Sheep are prettier than cows and make more demure manure.
The delicate lime-covered ferns of asparagus make an attractive backdrop, so you might consider edging the garden with it. Otherwise space rows a good three feet apart. If you have ever seen a 20-year-old asparagus bed, you know why: The plants grow very large and need plenty of space for maximum yield.
When your trench is ready, gently lift out a crown from the water bucket and lay it in. Asparagus roots need careful handling because they are fairly fragile. Minimize trauma as much as possible. If you feel competent, the best way is to spread the roots out like octopus tentacles, with the crowns facing upwards. If you're afraid you'll damage them you can simply lay the root sideways at a slight angle so that the crown is heading upwards; shove a little dirt under. Space the roots at least a foot apart, preferably 18 inches or two feet.
Cover the roots with four inches of soil. The trench will not be completely filled in, which is what you want. As the roots send out tender little shoots, you can add soil , keeping stalks covered as they grow. Don't mound the soil over them, just bring it in gently around the sides.
Eventually you will have filled in the trench, and then you can sit back and enjoy your growing asparagus. You'll have to mulch to keep weeds under control for the first couple of years, but eventually they will grow so thickly that you can just forget about the bed, and enjoy the tender shoots.
Interestingly enough, asparagus will spread like weeds. They send out tall fronds loaded with seeds that will fly in the wind and, if they land in a conducive spot, will grow wild. Hence the wild asparagus, whose tall waving ferns you may have spotted on roadsides and in fields in the country.
SPRIGHTLY SPINACH -- We're almost at the point where planting spinach won't produce any kind of a yield. You can squeak by this weekend and next, but that'll be it until fall. Plant the spinach in much the same way you'd plant lettuce. You don't want to overcrowd, but you can get away with seeds perhaps a quarter-inch apart, and as they come up, you can thin them and use the small leaves in a spring salad in about a month. I must add that I have never really understood spinach production -- or lack thereof.
In my garden it seems to alternate -- one year I'll get a bumper crop, and the next the seeds won't even sprout. I have come to the conclusion that temperature has quite a bit to do with it. I have found that the earlier I get spinach in -- planting it as early as late February or early March -- the more likely I am to get good production. So don't be discouraged if yours doesn't do as well as you'd hoped this year.
LOVELY LETTUCE -- Loose-leaf lettuce plantings are still fine. I have planted leaf lettuce into May and have gotten good yields. I like to plant it successively for continuous yields, and squeeze it in between other vegetables, with a few onions or garlic, or alternate rows of lettuce with annual flowers. Lettuce comes in greens, reds and deep burgundies for a variety of textures and tastes. It's very attractive as a border plant around a perennial bed or small herb garden.
PLANT, PLANT, PLANT -- Forget doing anything besides gardening for the next few weeks because here's a list of what you can put in just this weekend: carrots, beets, garlic, onions, peas (choose an early-maturing variety to put in now), potatoes. Transplant cabbage family members such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussell sprouts and kohlrabi. Fruit trees can go in now, as can strawberries, raspberries and other berries. More on that next week.