Personal advice and tips from Farmer Chris
I have loved asparagus the whole of my life and have grown it on our Farm for the past 10 years. This season (2019) we will not be harvesting a crop, and shall instead be focusing on the replenishment of our asparagus field.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family, of which there are over 150 varieties but only one of which is edible – the ‘Asparagus officinalis’. To thrive asparagus must have full sun, fertile soil (ideally with a PH of 6.5-7.5 but it’s not too fussy!) and good drainage – all of which we are blessed with on our Farm!
I am often asked by our green fingered customers how they can grow it at home, and I always answer “with a little hard work, a lot of patience and a sprinkling of love!” However it’s well worth it in the end, as once established, asparagus is low maintenance and will keep delivering delicious and tender spears for the next 25 years or more.
April to May
You can grow asparagus from seed, although it is best and easier to buy one year old ‘crowns’ which can be bought on the internet. Twenty five asparagus plants will yield enough for a family of four and over 22lb (10kg) of edible spears per year — that’s 500lb (226kg) or more over its lifetime!
Asparagus can be grown in the ground or on raised beds, although the method is the same either way. I plant mine in the ground.
It is best to plant the crowns in trenches. Dig a trench about 2 foot (60cm) wide and a foot (3ocm) deep and pile the soil either side. Then dig the bottom of the trench even deeper (3″/8cm) mixing grit and compost into the soil. Make 2 ridges along the bottom of the trench and plant the crowns about 12-18 inches (30-45cm) apart with the roots draped over the ridges (the roots are brittle so be careful when you handle them). Cover them over with the soil you have put to one side to form long, low raised beds then finally water well. Although this can be hard work initially, don’t forget you only have to do it every 25 years!
Do not cut any spears in the first year so that the roots are able to develop. The foliage will turn yellow by November, at which point you cut them to the ground and add compost or manure to the bed. Do this every autumn. In year 2 make only one cutting, taking a maximum of only 2 spears from each plant (cut when they are approx 5-7″/15cm tall with a sharp knife just below the soil level). By Year 3 you can cut freely until 1st June. From Year 4 you can eat until your heart’s content!
Asparagus plants are either male or female. Always try to use male plants as they are more prolific as no energy is wasted producing seeds and they do not produce baby plants, which can compete for space and nutrients. If any female plants do appear (they produce orange-red berries) they can be carefully removed.
Before planting it is critical to ensure there are no weeds or grasses in the planting area — asparagus will not tolerate them!
Always use some all-purpose, organic fertilizer or rock phosphate in your trench as you only get one opportunity to fortify the root zone!
To keep your asparagus bed productive, don’t be greedy in the early years! If you pick too much your plants will not be able to develop the strong root system and energy reserves they’ll need to produce an abundance of spears in the years to come
Watch out for asparagus beetles, slugs and snails – they love the tender spears as much as we do!
Cleaning Asparagus: Rinse the spears under cool water to remove any soil. Snap off the bottom inch with your fingers – the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part ends and the tender stem begins. Dry the spears.
Storing in the Fridge: Keep asparagus fresh by placing the stems in a jug of water in the fridge
Storing in the Freezer: This is the best way to preserve asparagus to eat all year round and keep it nutrient rich. Wash well. Cut off tough part of the stalks and either leave as spears or cut into 1 inch pieces. Boil thin stalks 2 minutes, medium stalks 3 minutes and thick stalks 4 minutes. Blanching the asparagus this way before freezing prevents it from loosing its colour and taste. After this process it is important to package and freeze the spears quickly to prevent post-freeze mush! For spears, it’s a good idea to alternate tips and ends down
Cooking Asparagus: Boil, steam, roast, chargrill, stir-fry or sauté the list is endless!