When it comes to growing vegetables you need to grow things that you love to eat, crops that are expensive to buy in the shops and things that taste better eaten fresh from the garden, so why not grow your own asparagus says Jean Vernon.
For the ultimate garden grown produce choose to grow your own asparagus. It’s a high value crop that tastes delicious and once established each plant will keep cropping for years on end.
Sometimes surrounded in mystery, asparagus has the reputation of being somewhat complicated or difficult to grow. In fact this is nonsense. Asparagus has simple requirements, few pests that trouble it and once established will go on cropping year after year. Fresh asparagus is costly to buy in the shops, which makes it an excellent choice for gardeners to grow themselves. The initial outlay is higher than some vegetables, but think of it as an investment. Two full years after planting, twelve plump crowns should provide a family of four with a sumptuous asparagus feast every weekend for about four weeks and in subsequent years you may get even more for your money.
To pick or not to pick
One of the things some people find confusing is when you can start harvesting your spears. It’s not rocket science; you simply need to think about the health and vigour of your plants. When you first plant your asparagus crowns they need to put all their energy into settling into the soil, producing more roots and making plenty of ferns to feed the crown. If you pick the spears too early then you steal the energy from your plants, which could weaken your plants. A little self-control allows your plants to bulk up faster to create strong healthy plants.
Increase its value
Once your plants are established, after three to four years, you can think about getting an earlier crop. You’ve probably seen asparagus spears from Peru in the supermarket, if you add a cloche over one or two crowns you can bring your own harvest forward and create a much more valuable harvest.
It’s worth doing and you can do it in your own garden quite easily. Don’t try to do it until the third year, let the plants establish themselves well first. Make sure you’ve removed all the weeds first and it really is very simple. Just put some wire hoops over the crowns and plastic cloche over the hoops and then weigh it down with stones or dig it in, but you really want to have it so that on one side can be easily lifted up so you can pick the asparagus when it comes up. Keep a very close eye on it, keep it weed free, keep it watered if necessary and use Richard’s Organic Slug and Snail Control. If you have asparagus spears that have started to twist it is almost always slugs that are responsible.
Surprisingly you can force the same plants year after year. But if you start cutting spears a month early, then you should stop harvesting a month earlier too. Sometimes forcing can make the plants stronger because the plants start to produce its green fern from the middle of May, if you stop cutting the middle of May, rather than the middle of June so it gets an extra month of photosynthesis and that makes a lot of difference to the starch stored in the root and the health of the plant.
What to grow
Many different asparagus varieties are available to buy as crowns for amateur gardeners. Asparagus plants are either male or female (dioecious) and the male plants produce the best yields of spears. Open pollinated varieties have a fifty/fifty make up of male female plants. Some modern F1 varieties are all male and a good choice for gardeners.
The all male, Dutch variety called Gijnlim produces early and quality stems.
Asparagus Gijnlim is a vigorous variety, producing large crops of deliciously tasty asparagus spears. It is an RHS AGM winner and is a vigorous F1 hybrid variety that is high yielding, producing large crops for several weeks. The dark green spears with deep purple tips are ready to start picking early in the “asparagus season” and for several weeks afterwards. Asparagus Gijnlim is often the go-to variety of choice, regularly grown by PYO farms.
Its essential to choose the right spot for your asparagus bed as it is not ideal to move it later. Choose an open, sunny, well-drained site. A raised bed is ideal, but fill it with well rotted organic matter, (not green grass clippings), and as much well rotted compost as possible and dig it down two feet and three feet across and add to it some sources of phosphate and potash.
Weed control is important and watering is surprisingly important, and ensuring you get some nitrogen into it when you stop cutting. About 2 weeks after cutting, when the spears are 18in high put some nitrogen on. It could be fish, blood & bone or an inorganic fertiliser. They are easily overgrown by perennial weeds.