How to Grow Asparagus
When a couple set up home together they are often advised to invest in the best bed that they can afford. Well – it’s pretty much the same with asparagus. Spend time and trouble making a perfect bed for it and your efforts will pay long-term dividends: a good asparagus bed can be productive for ten years or more.
When to plant Asparagus
The normal planting time for asparagus crowns is late winter or early spring, but, if there are any perennial weeds to be dealt with, you start preparing the bed well before that– ideally the previous autumn. You must eradicate these weeds before you even think of planting – otherwise, once the crowns are in position, you will be unable to do anything other than superficial weeding for fear of damaging them.
Be sure to choose a sunny and sheltered position: after all, this is the Prince of Vegetables and you are planting crowns! Actually, they look more like large spiders, but the point is that they will languish if you skimp on the soil preparation.
Once the weeds have been banished, dig a trench about 20cm deep and 30cm wide and spread 10cm of well-rotted manure or home-made compost along the bottom, sprinkle this with a handful of fish blood and bone fertiliser and add some sharp grit to improve drainage if you have a heavy soil. Then, using the soil you have dug out, form a low mound centrally along the length of the trench and you will be ready to plant.
When your crowns arrive, soak them overnight in tepid water to which you have added liquid seaweed. This will help get them off to a flying start, especially if they have dried out a bit in transit. Place the crowns 30cm apart along the mound and spread their roots evenly around them (it doesn’t matter if they overlap a bit). Fill in the sides of the trench with soil and firm in the crowns by hand before covering them with the rest of the soil. Water well to settle the soil. If you are planting more than 1 row, allow 1 metre between rows.
When to pick Asparagus
Now comes the difficult bit – you must NOT pick any asparagus during the 1st year while the crowns are establishing themselves and you can only pick a few during the 2nd year. Your patience will be rewarded from the 3rd year onwards as the bed erupts with a veritable thicket of fat spears. Use an asparagus knife to cut them about 5cm below soil level. To enjoy them at their very best have the steamer bubbling away while you are picking and you are guaranteed a right royal feast.
The first spears emerge in April and you can continue picking until the 3rd week of June but then you must stop and allow the remaining spears to develop into ferns. In late autumn the foliage will begin to turn brown and it is time to cut it all down close to ground level and compost it (or burn if there is any sign of asparagus beetle). Dig a shallow trench either side of the row and pile the soil on top of the crowns and mulch with well-rotted compost or manure, or best of all, if you live by the seaside, fresh seaweed.
Enjoy! Here’s some we cooked earlier.