Caring for Asparagus

CULTURAL INSTRUCTIONS

Asparagus is very easy to grow providing adequate soil preparation is carried out. In order to obtain the best results it is important to plant top quality crowns; one or two-year-old crowns are better than the three year crowns – the younger and smaller plants can be transplanted with little or no damage to their very brittle root system, whilst the three-year-old crowns so very often damage, which invariably leads to their demise.

Once planted asparagus can be a permanent crop; looked after well a good bed can be in production for up to twenty years. Most soils will grow asparagus well but good drainage and high fertility is essential. Heavy soils will benefit by an application of well rotted farmyard manure, compost or peat, as well as light sandy soils. It is also essential that the ground is free from all perennial weeds, e.g., couch grass, bindweed, dandelions, docks, etc. Once the asparagus is planted these weeds are almost impossible to eradicate. A good time for planting is mid-March to late April, and the best method of planting the crowns is to dig out a trench 6 ins deep and approximately 2-3 ft apart. The base of the trench should be ridged up, the crowns should be placed on top of the ridge and the roots spread out carefully. The distance between the plants should be 15-18 ins in the row. Cover the roots with 3-4 ins of soil. During the winter a dressing of farmyard manure, peat or compost can be given, and a general fertilizer should be applied at the rate of 3-4 oz. per square yard in late February or March.

It is important to keep the bed weeded and this must be done with care since the roots of the asparagus are very near the surface. There is no need for dressings of agricultural salt as this has little or no value. The crowns need two years in which to establish and develop properly, then in the spring of the third year the crowns will be ready for cutting.

The shoots are cut below ground level when they are 4-5 ins long, a new bed can be cut for six weeks and eight weeks for a bed that is established. But, as a guideline, all cutting must cease soon after the middle of June. This will allow the fern to grow and develop during the summer, in order to build up the crowns for the following season. The fern should not be cut until it turns yellow during November, then it can be removed by cutting it down to ground level. Any fern which produces berries should be removed before the berries drop onto the soil and germinate. Plants producing berries are female and do not produce such good spears as male plants – it is advisable to discard any female plants that may appear and replace them with male plants.

Asparagus is the simplest and easiest vegetable to prepare and cook. Tie the asparagus loosely in bundles, one bundle per person, and if possible place upright in a saucepan and boil slowly for 15 minutes, having added salt and a little sugar to the water. This will mean that the stems are covered with water and the tips, which are more tender, are out of the water. This will prevent the tips from becoming too soft and mushy, which so often happens when they are cooked horizontally in the water. Serve with melted butter, seasoning to taste and eat with your fingers. On the continent they also serve asparagus with mayonnaise or roasted breadcrumbs, and butter.

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