Preparation key to many years of harvesting asparagus
If you can’t get enough of asparagus when it appears in our supermarkets in spring, you might consider growing your own. The dormant crowns are in garden centres now ready for planting. Grab yourself a pack or two and plant in a sandy, well-drained soil in full sun. You need to ensure your asparagus beds have perfect drainage otherwise crown rot may occur. Plant in raised beds if in doubt, or on a gentle slope. You can add coarse sand to your soil if necessary. Compost or aged manure added in is also ideal. Then dig over your soil to a depth of 30cm. If you have acid soil, it’s best to add lime. When it comes to planting, dig a trench 15cm deep. Add a fertiliser that’s high in phosphorus, such as blood and bone. Plant the asparagus crowns about 40cm apart (rows should be 1.5-2m apart), then backfill the trenches without compacting the soil. If sowing seeds, grow in containers the first year and transplant into the ground when they reach about 10cm high. Avoid harvesting from your plants in the first year, as they need to build up as much strength as they can. Let the spears open up into the feathery fern stage. While they’re still green, they are feeding their crowns, and strong crowns are the secret to success. In the second year, only harvest a few spears, which will enable the crowns to continue building up strength. At this stage picking a few spears will encourage more buds, making them more productive the following year. Harvesting can begin properly in the third year. Pick spears when they’re 15-20cm long. Cut them with a sharp knife at ground level. Pick daily otherwise the spears will become tough. Harvesting usually continues for about eight weeks. When cropping begins to slow down and the spears thin down (less than 1cm in diameter), stop picking altogether. You will still have spears, but resist the temptation to pick them; these are best left on the plant to replenish nutrients to the crowns. Apply a layer of compost around your plants and leave them be. Don’t cut back the ferny fronds until they begin to die back. While they are still green they are producing and transporting nutrients to the crowns. Cut them right to the ground, then add another layer of compost and feed with liquid seaweed – or cover with a mulch of seaweed. Good preparation at the beginning will ensure a good 15-20 years of picking.
Tasty spears: Time to plant asparagus.