growing asparagus

Growing Asparagus – Spears of Green

It may take time, but growing your own luxurious spears of asparagus is very doable.

Roasted with olive oil, pan-fried in butter, wrapped with bacon or just blanched and used in a salad with ricotta – however you use asparagus, it is a decadent treat that can’t help but impress guests. And when you’re walking friends around your veggie garden, growing asparagus and the sight of delicate green spears breaking through rich, dark soil and thrusting into the light is far more brag-worthy.

Growing asparagus is not particularly difficult as long as you pay attention to the conditions it is grown in, but it does take time and there’s no way around that. Some varieties can be grown from seed, and this is available, but that just prolongs the long wait. Rather buy yourself some established crowns and plant those – they will be ready to harvest in a year or two.

I know it sounds like a long wait, but bear in mind that asparagus is a long-lived and frost-hardy perennial that will produce shoots for you for years once established, so it really is worth the wait. As we said, you need to match the conditions quite carefully to get the most out of your asparagus.

The soil should be fertile but well-draining and verging on sandy, plus not acidic. If drainage is a problem in your garden, rather plant asparagus in containers. The spot you choose should be either in full sun or in sun with afternoon shade. Remember when planting that asparagus will be there for the long haul and you don’t want to move it, so position wisely. Also bear in mind that asparagus plants can grow tall, up to 2m or even 3m high.

Water is important, so water regularly to maintain moist but not waterlogged conditions. To plant crowns, dig holes of 20cm wide and deep. Add bonemeal and a slow-release organic fertiliser to the soil just dug up and mix well. Create a small mound of the amended soil at the base of each hole and spread the roots of the crown over it, then back-fill the hole. Be careful not to bury the crown too deeply. Place an organic mulch around the crown once planted. You can plant the crowns shallowly to start, and then add a few centimetres of soil as the leaves grow and if you want the shoots to stay white, mound soil around them as they grow.

Harvesting takes place from early spring all the way through to autumn, and each plant should produce a crop for over a decade, maybe even 15 years. When the shoots (called spears) are 1 – 2cm thick and 15 – 20cm long, they can be carefully cut or snapped off at the base. Any bigger and they lose that delightful asparagus crispness. Don’t pick every spear though, or the plant won’t have the energy to build up reserves to get through the dormant phase in winter.

The first time you harvest, 2 – 3 years after planting, don’t harvest for longer than 4 weeks, so that the plant can recover and grow in size. The following year you can stretch the harvest to 6 weeks, and in the subsequent years a healthy plant can be harvested for 8 or even 10 weeks a year. Feed with an organic fertiliser just after you start harvesting and then again 6 weeks later. This will help the plants to generate more spears.

After harvest season is over and the plant begins to die down for its winter nap, cut the leaves down to the ground and cover with a thick layer of compost or another organic mulch. Good garden companions for asparagus are tomatoes, basil, calendula, petunias, lettuce and other salad greens. Bad ones are root vegetables like potatoes, onions and garlic.

The Gardener