Asparagus is a crop worth waiting for; at least three years wait. And then the 10 months of the year when it is dormant! But it is a true spring delicacy which everyone should be able to afford to eat and once established, it will be very long lived. Perfect for a community garden. We have a mix of green (Mary Washington) and purple (Sweet Purple) stemmed varieties.
Asparagus likes an open, fertile, well drained site with cold winters and temperate climate which suits Newstead’s garden. They are dioecious – produce male and female plants – and apparently the males are more productive. The females produce the small round (poisonous) fruits and are often taller and thinner, so you can select for males if you choose to. Grown from crowns (seed will take another two or three years to be ready to plant) placed at about 30 – 40cm apart in trenches (30cm x 20cm deep) in early spring. Add soil and compost to fill the trenches as the plants grow. You must let the plants to grow freely for the first three years, despite the temptation to harvest.
Autumn – When the ferny tops yellow off, cut the plants back to ground level. Mulch to supress weeds. I’ve seen sheep dags from shearing used as an effective mulch (not if the sheep have been dipped or treated with chemicals though)
Winter – If the tops haven’t yellowed off by early winter, cut them back to ground level now, so the crowns have a chance to develop reserves for spring. After a couple of seasons, rake away the hills and replensh with compost and slow release fertiliser and they love seaweed, so some diluted seaweed solution or the real thing, then mound back the soil again. Being such a long lived plant – 20 years or so – they need the soil to be well fed and fertilised over that time. Crowns can be divided and replanted in winter and early spring.
Spring – Apply a dose of compost or worm juice/fertiliser as the weather warms. As the stems emerge through the soil, cut them off just below soil level (2cm below with a sharp knife, using an angular cut) to harvest when they are 8 – 15cm high. Cut every day to avoid tough stems. Dont harvest every plant; let some go to flower to ensure the crowns can be replenished. Keep up the weeding because they don’t compete well.
Summer – Continue harvest, feeding and weeding. It suggested not to harvest after mid-summer when the spears have become very thin, but to let those plants grow. After the last harvest a good feed will help build up the crowns again.
Generally – Asparagus are hardy but they will do well with watering through spring and summer production periods. Apparently parsley, basil and tomatoes are good companions but it may be impractical to grow them in the same bed. Eating asparagus can make your wee smell, but it’s a very healthy vege – B vitamins, folate and supposed to be good for arthritis and gout!
Eating – Eat them as soon as you pick the spears, the less cooking the better. think steamed and drizzled with oil or butter, in risotto, topped with parmesan, or raw and finely sliced (especially the purple one; it’s sweeter). If keeping longer than a few days, lightly steam and then freeze.