Saturday, 4 November 2017

Putting the asparagus to bed

I've just put my asparagus to bed for the winter. When we first moved here three years ago I planted two twenty  foot rows and so we were able to cut and enjoy our first decent crop this year. Not content with this I added three additional rows last spring to extend the bed. My investment for the future. 

I regard asparagus as one of the elite vegetables to grow at home. To me it has a unique flavour, best unsullied by over-complicated recipes. At the same time it only has a relatively short cropping season and also requires patience and some labour to grow successfully. I've grown asparagus in the past and so was keen to establish a new bed here. 

I planned the additional rows last year. Because asparagus is effectively a permanent crop the area in which they are to grow needs to be well prepared. In particular, any pernicious weeds have to be eliminated and the soil enriched. Last autumn I dug over the bed, weeding as I went. Then I dug in some well rotted manure and this was covered with a heavy duty black plastic sheet. When this was removed the following April it revealed a weed free, rich soil. 

The year old crowns arrived by post and the next day they were planted and watered in. I grow two varieties: Backlim and Gijnlim, both F1 hybridsAll that was left to do was to keep the bed weeded during the summer to allow the young shoots to grow without competition and gradually build up the root stock for stronger growth next year.

The time to sort the bed out ready for winter is when the asparagus fronds which have been allowed to grow over the summer turn yellow, and preferably before they start toppling over in the wind as this might cause them to break off and damage the crown. I cut them down to 2 inch stalks. I like to keep a bit of stalk to mark the plants and so help minimise the risk of damaging the root stocks as I carry out a thorough weeding. Weeding the asparagus bed really needs to be carried out by hand. The danger of using a hoe is that the thick shallow roots can easily be broken off as they lie not far below the surface. Once the weeding is done, on went a layer of composted manure which will gradually work itself into the soil over winter.

If you enjoy asparagus as much as I do it really is worth the time and effort it takes to produce a regular crop. Asparagus is quintessentially a seasonal crop, only available in April and May followed by a long patient wait until the next year. Like corn-on-the-cob, asparagus is best cooked and eaten fresh, as soon as it is picked. I know that nowadays you can buy asparagus virtually any time you like from a supermarket but I urge resisting any temptation to do so. Firstly, there is a special delight in savouring a vegetable or fruit when it is in season, and only when it's in season. Let the anticipation build. Secondly, imported asparagus will never compare with your own home grown freshly picked asparagus, or failing that, British grown in season asparagus, purchased maybe a day after it's been picked. If you are fortunate enough to have a local grower then it will probably have been picked the same morning. In the spring you might find early season asparagus from Spain, but the vast quantity of imported asparagus found in UK supermarkets comes from Peru, 6000 miles away. Whether you accept the evidence on global warming or not, that represents a big carbon footprint.

So if you have asparagus aspirations, now is the time to start preparing your bed and ordering your crowns for delivery next spring. You should be able to start cropping in 2020. 

Delayed gratification