Spears for years

It’s the nu­tri­ent-rich vegetable that keeps on giv­ing

Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - with Ma­ree Cur­ran Got a gar­den­ing question? Email ma­ree@ede­nat­by­ron.com.au

MOST of the veg­eta­bles we grow are an­nu­als. They grow quickly and are ready for har­vest in only a few months, and then we re­place them. But there are some peren­nial veg­eta­bles that will live and pro­duce for years, and per­haps the most pop­u­lar of these is as­para­gus. An as­para­gus plot can pro­duce for more than 15 years once es­tab­lished.

As­para­gus (As­para­gus of­fi­cianalis) is a mem­ber of the lily fam­ily. The fern-like fo­liage grows to about 1.5m if it is not har­vested for con­sump­tion as a young shoot.

This is a nu­tri­ent-rich vegetable, high in folic acid and a good source of potas­sium, fi­bre, vi­ta­mins B6, A and C and thi­amine.

It con­tains no fat, no choles­terol and is low in sodium. It tastes de­li­cious, and, be­cause it can be ex­pen­sive to buy, it’s a great crop to add to the home gar­den.

It’s in­cred­i­bly easy to grow. Plenty of room and plenty of pa­tience are the main re­quire­ments, as it takes a cou­ple of years for an as­para­gus bed to be­come pro­duc­tive.

The best way to grow as­para­gus is by plant­ing crowns, which are es­tab­lished root sys­tems with dor­mant top growth.

Crowns are avail­able for a brief pe­riod in winter. As­para­gus will also grow from seed, but crowns will pro­duce more quickly be­cause they are al­ready about two years old.

You need to plant at least six crowns to get a de­cent crop in the first few years, but plant more if you have the space.

Be­cause as­para­gus will re­main pro­duc­tive for many years and doesn’t like to be dis­turbed, you must choose a po­si­tion where it can be left alone.

A sunny, well-drained po­si­tion is es­sen­tial.

Dig the soil deeply and add plenty of or­ganic mat­ter. As­para­gus per­forms best when the soil pH is 6.5–7.5, so you may need to add some lime too.

Make a trench about 25cm deep, and make a lit­tle mound at the bot­tom of the trench. Plant the as­para­gus crown on this mound, spread­ing the roots out. Plant the crowns about

40-50cm apart, each on its own lit­tle mound.

Cover the crown with 5cm of soil. Fill in the trench grad­u­ally as the shoots emerge, tak­ing care not to cover any fo­liage. In a few weeks the trench will be level with the sur­face of the soil. As­para­gus is hun­gry stuff, so feed it reg­u­larly dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son.

To let your as­para­gus bed be­come re­ally pro­duc­tive, don’t har­vest any shoots in the first year, and pick only a few in the sec­ond.

In the third year, cut the spears just be­low ground level when they are about 15-25cm high, for 2-4 weeks in spring. In sub­se­quent years, take all the fin­ger-size spears you want for about 10 weeks.

Stop har­vest­ing when the shoots be­come thin, and let these grow into ferns to feed the crowns for next year’s crop, fer­til­is­ing them ev­ery now and then with a com­plete or­ganic plant food. In au­tumn when the ferns start to turn yel­low, cut them down and use them as mulch over winter.

While green as­para­gus is the most com­mon, there is a form that pro­duces pur­ple spears.

Eat it fresh and raw if you want to re­tain the pur­ple colour, as, like pur­ple beans, it will turn green when cooked.

If you want to grow white as­para­gus then cover the shoots with some­thing (an up­turned bucket would do) to ex­clude sun­light.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Long-liv­ing as­para­gus is easy to grow.

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