Asparagus

Why Grow Asparagus?

Once established, an asparagus bed can produce wonderful succulent spears for up to 20 years. Although initially this can mean a considerable amount of work, the freshness of the taste of spears that you have just cut from your own garden has no comparison with the often dry and bland offerings found in shops all year round.

Asparagus has been grown for several hundred years; back in the eighteenth century it was a grown in great quantities. Battersea in south-west London had over 250 acres of asparagus fields. Large country houses had vast asparagus beds; the plants would be rested after the end of the June harvest, and then heavily manured to encourage another crop in September. Sometimes crowns were lifted and moved into glasshouses where hot beds were made by filling a trench with fresh horse dung, which was the covered with a layer of soil before re-planting the crowns; this produced ample under soil heating as the dung decomposed into manure. The aristocracy could then enjoy fresh asparagus well into the winter.

Quick Facts
Botanical Name : Asparagus officinalis
Sowing Time : Seeds – April
Crowns – April
Harvest Time : Late April – Early June
Hardiness : Not hardy – Protect From Frost
Position : Full Sun, Sheltered from strong winds
Soil Type : Well drained and fertile. Lime if very acidic.
Average Plant Height : 1-1.5m / 3-5ft
Spacing : 30 – 45cm / 12 – 18in
Spread : 50cm / 20in
Soil and Preparation

Any moderately fertile soil will suit, but very acidic soils will need lime. Chose a sunny site that is sheltered from strong winds, avoid any frost pockets; good drainage is essential, consider using raised beds where this is a problem.

Asparagus beds need to be carefully prepared, but once done they will last for years. Prepare the beds in autumn by digging in well rotted manure and remove all perennial weeds.

Seeds and Sowing

Asparagus crowns should be planted in April when the soil is not too cold or wet. Dig a trench 30cm (12in) wide and 20cm (8in) deep. Loosen up the soil at the bottom of the trench, mix in some mushroom compost and grit and form a small ridge down the centre of the trench. At 30cm (12in) intervals, spread the roots of the crowns over the ridge and cover with 5cm (2in) of topsoil, as the plants grow gradually fill in the trench until level. Keep the beds weed free.

Note – Be careful, whilst you are planting, not to let the crowns dry out.

Caring for your Crop

Keep your asparagus beds free from weeds, their roots are very delicate so it is best to weed them by hand. The tall ferns may require support in the summer and will need to be watered during dry spells. In the autumn, once the ferns have turned yellow, cut them back to 3-5cm (1-2in) above the ground.

Harvesting

Asparagus is usually harvested from May to June. In the first year, you may marvel at the tempting looking shoots of your new crop, but it advisable to do no more than that. The second year a couple of delicious cuttings may be taken from the healthiest plants. The third year cutting must stop at the beginning of June, so as to allow the plants to regenerate fully; from the fourth year on, you can cut freely from May until mid-June.

Harvest spears when they are between 10-15cm (4-6in), using a serrated kitchen, or specialist asparagus, knife cut the spear about 7cm (3in) below the soil level. Do not let the spears get too long otherwise it can affect the quality of the remaining spears, harvest everyday if necessary. Cutting should stop at the end of the June and the spears be left to fully develop. Over the summer they will build up the crowns food reserves ready for next spring. Cut the foliage back to ground level in the autumn when the foliage turns yellow.

Storage

Asparagus spears are best when they are fresh, ideally cooked within an hour of cutting. They will keep for a few days in the fridge but won’t have that straight from the garden ‘fresh’ taste.