The asparagus are coming up in the vegetable garden. This is the first year I have allowed myself to harvest them. It is their third season. I bought most of them as two year olds. I have Mary Washington (Herb & Co), Sweet purple (hardware shop), Jersey Knight (Herb & Co) and Fat Bastard (Diggers).
There was an asparagus patch at Valleyfield when I was growing up. So I learned to love them as a child. In spring we would sometimes have them for lunch on a weekend, with melted butter.
I think my favourite thing to have with them is bearnaise sauce, if I can spare the time to make it.
I have found them to be fairly easy to grow but you do need space, patience and to prepare the ground well so it is free of weeds before planting.
If happy, asparagus will keep on providing for you for years and years. So it is important to choose where to plant them carefully as it could be their permanent location for twenty years or more. I’m afraid, I already have a plan to move mine, so I obviously failed that test.
They like a sunny spot.
One or two plants is not enough in my view. That will only give you enough asparagus to scatter in a stir-fry a few times a year. I like enough to get a proper lunch-sized plateful for each member of the family once a week, which means I need 10 or more plants. They need to be spaced 40 cm apart in their row, and the rows need to be a metre apart or so.
Male plants (which do not make little red berries full of seed in late summer/autumn) apparently make for a better harvest (fatter spears). Jersey Knight is meant to be all male plants. But I don’t quite understand this, because mine were grown from seed?
I failed this test too. I prepared the bed by putting a layer of horse manure down over what had been lawn, then cardboard (to kill the grass) and then pea-straw. All okay so far. But then I rushed the plants in within a month, punching holes in the cardboard to plant. What I should have done was wait several months and maybe mulch again to smother any weeds which did survive. As it is, now I have couch grass coming up entangled in the asparagus and it is a real pain to get it out.
Your female plants will seed everywhere each year and you will find tiny new plants scattered about. You need to weed these out too otherwise your bed will get over-crowded and the plants less prolific.
Unlike most other vegetables, asparagus are perennial. They sprout in spring, feather out to a ferny mass in summer, yellow off in autumn and die back completely in winter.
You need your plant’s roots to get strong and to reach its full size. If you harvest too early in the plant’s life, you will prevent the roots reaching their full size because you remove all the shoots which would otherwise have grown up and fed the roots beneath. So, it is best not to harvest at all for 2-3 years after planting. Once you start harvesting you should only cut for 6-9 weeks. Alternatively, some say harvest until your shoots are as thin as a pencil and then stop. I have found my plants send up some fat shoots and some skinny shoots and so I prefer go by the number of weeks I’ve been harvesting. Some shoots need to be allowed to grow up so the plant is not starved.
I have managed to be patient about waiting to harvest my asparagus, if not the weed control and planning!
Asparagus like manure. I read somewhere that you should bury a dead goat in your asparagus patch as part of your soil preparation! I didn’t do this. I didn’t have a dead goat handy. I have also read that they like seaweed and they don’t mind a bit of sea salt left on the weed as they originate from the coast. I have gathered sea-weed for the asparagus patch, although my children do get sick of stinky things being loaded into the car on family outings. They try and get me to look the other way if they ever spot bags of roadside manure.
Asparagus are like peas in that as soon as you harvest them, the natural sugar inside the shoot begins to be converted into starch. At least I think it is starch. At any event, it is something that is not as tasty and sweet to eat. So you should eat your asparagus as close to the time that you pick them as possible.