Tips for Growing Asparagus
By Di. Powell, from an article by Peter Cundall
Find a space for asparagus in any garden, once established they require virtually no maintenance. Wild asparagus originated in the salt steppes of Eastern Europe and some growers sprinkle coarse salt between the plants to kill competing weeds. That’s also why seaweed is useful as a mulch.
A well-prepared bed will keep on producing for up to 30 years but the growing conditions must be perfectly drained. If you have clay soil the beds need to be built up to at least ½ a metre. Sandy soil, especially near the coast, you could be in business.
The preparation can be hard work but needs only doing once in 2 or 3 decades. Even, under average growing conditions, the soil is best lifted much higher than the vegetable beds. They are very greedy plants so mix at least 2 buckets of animal manure to each square metre of surface. Horse, cow, sheep or poultry are all excellent but make sure they are well-decayed over a few months.
Asparagus plants detest acidic soils, great lime lovers. Don’t use hydrated lime with the manure – they react against each other. You can be extremely generous with finely-ground limestone or dolomite.
When purchasing asparagus crowns, best to choose the ones with thick succulent roots. Three-year-old plants are the best. The male plants produce better quality more numerous spears. To identify the female crowns, look for dozens of berry-like seeds.
The plants go in the ground almost a metre apart, constantly fed with enormous amounts of animal manures and kept well-watered during summer. Planting can take place during winter, with many growers preferring August as that is when growth is about to commence.
Create shallow, 20 cm-deep trenches in the raised beds. Place the crowns at least ½ metre apart, in rows at least a metre apart. They form enormous, extensive roots which occupy every part of the soil in the bed. Cover each crown with 10 cm soil, or better still, well-made compost. As the spears grow the trenches can be gradually filled to keep the spears blanched. If you prefer a stronger flavour, forget about the blanching.
During the first season, new asparagus spears are left uncut. If you can’t resist the temptation your crowns will be weakened. In the second year, harvest one spear per crown. In the third year and subsequent years take up to one-third of the spears per crown. Keep up the regular feeding, especially with old manures, water well during summer. Follow the above and you will have gourmet treats every year and share with friends and neighbours to keep envy at bay! In autumn, cut the fern-like leaves down to the ground after they have changed colour.
A cheap way of raising your own asparagus plants is to sow seed during spring. Good varieties are ‘Mary Washington’ or the outstanding ‘Limbras No 10’ if you can find the seed. Plant the best seedlings into their permanent bed the following winter.
Photo credit - Melissa Fogarty, Blue Boat Farm, Freshly cut asparagus
Photo credit - Melissa Fogarty, Blue Boat Farm, Cutting down asparagus ferns in Autumn