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Asparagus

Asparagus

Isn’t it exciting that fresh asparagus is not only more readily available in the shops nowadays, but it’s also possible for all gardeners to grow their very own from seed or crowns.  All you need is good soil, a sunny spot and quite a bit of patience.

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Asparagus officinalis is a perennial that goes dormant during the winter months (that means the stems and leaves will die down, but the roots will continue growing) and greets us with fresh new growth come early spring.  The plants have delicate, lacy, fernlike leaves and are either male or female with the female plant bearing red berries in autumn.  Male plants tend to have a higher and tastier yield.

Growing asparagus from seed:

Asparagus seed can be sown from late summer to autumn.  Asparagus grown from seed will take about three years to start producing.  It is recommended that you sow the seeds in cavity trays or small pots and plant them out when ready.  Plant the seeds in a good germination mix at a depth of 1cm.  Water the seedlings regularly and adequately as water stress during this time will affects productivity later on.  After one year, the young crowns can be planted out into the garden.

Growing asparagus from crowns:

Asparagus crowns will be available at Lifestyle Home Garden from the middle of May and should be planted immediately or stored in a cool, dry place to be planted from early spring.

Preparation is key:

Asparagus can be planted in either full sun or afternoon shade.  Prepare beds in advance by removing all weeds and digging a thick layer of compost in deeply (to about the depth of a spade’s blade).

Keep in mind that asparagus are perennials that can grow up to 3m high and will need a permanent spot in the garden.

Very important is good drainage as asparagus does not enjoy being waterlogged.  If your soil is not well drained you could use deep planters or raised garden beds to keep the plants happy.

Asparagus prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil.  If your soil is acidic (pH lower than 5, 5), add agricultural lime to the soil before planting.

Planting your asparagus:

Dig trenches of ±20cm deep in rows that are 20cm apart. If you’re only planting a few plants randomly, dig holes that are 20cm deep and just as wide.  Add bone meal or organic 2:3:2 fertiliser to the soil.  Keep the dugout soil in a heap or ridge next to the trench.

Create a little mound for each crown and spread the roots over it. The distance between young crowns should be about 25cm.

Initially only cover the crowns with 5cm of the soil that you have dug out.  As the ferny leaves grows (at about 10cm above soil level) cover it with another 5 cm and then another 5cm of soil, continuing until the trench is filled to the initial level. Take care never to bury the young plants.  Spread a thick layer of mulch amongst the plants.

Companion Planting:

Good companions:  Basil, parsley, marigold, nasturtiums, petunias, calendulas, tomatoes and lettuce.

Bad companions:  Onions, chives, garlic, beetroot, carrots, turnips, radishes and potatoes.

Watering and feeding your asparagus:

Water the asparagus regularly and keep moist but not waterlogged.

Apply an organic 6:3:4 fertiliser a week after you start harvesting and again about 6 weeks later.  Thereafter feed monthly with an organic liquid fertilizer until the plant goes dormant.

When the leaves and stems die down in winter, cut them down to ground level and apply a thick blanket of compost or mulch.

Harvesting your asparagus:

As I mentioned before, asparagus does require a bit of patience as it only starts producing spears for harvesting after 2-3 years, but once on the go, the plant will continue to produce for more than 10 years.  Well worth the effort!

The spear is the part of the plant that is harvested and eaten.  Spears will sprout from the crowns from spring to early autumn, depending on the age of the plant.  Only start harvesting during the second or third year after planting when the young spears are 1-2cm thick and cut them when they are 15-20cm long.   If you leave them to grow too long, they will lose their crispness, so check plants on a daily basis.

Harvest the spears by cutting them with a sharp, clean knife or simply snapping them off at ground level.

It is recommended that the first harvest season should only last 3-4 weeks to avoid depleting the plants’ resources.   Stop harvesting when spears become weak and thin and allow the plant to grow the ferny leaves that will provide food for the next season.  The second harvest season can last for 6 weeks and thereafter you should be able to harvest for 8 to 10 weeks each season.  See…patience is a virtue!

It is best to harvest asparagus as you need it and use it as fresh as possible.  If you do need to store some, brush or lightly all soil from the spears and dry thoroughly.  Tie the spears in a bundle and wrap wet kitchen towel around the base.  Place in a plastic bag and store in the crisp drawer of your fridge.  From here you can steam it, boil it, sauté it or use fresh in salads or a creamy asparagus soup.  Yummmmm…come on spring!

 

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