Prepa­ra­tion key to many years of har­vest­ing as­para­gus

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES -

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.

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