Asparagus crowns are in the nurseries and hardware shops at the moment, so it seems a good time to look at both the planting and maintenance of Asparagus. They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and will produce year after year with very little maintenance.
The most important thing to remember with asparagus is that they are a perennial plant that can live and produce for up to 30 years, but dislike being moved, so choose their growing spot carefully.
Also, because of their length of production, soil preparation before planting is important.
Asparagus likes full sun and a well-drained, deep friable soil that has had lots of well-rotted animal manure added to it. I like to dig a small trench about 20cm wide and 20cm deep. I then 1/2 fill it with a mixture of compost, cow, sheep and chicken manure. I also add a handful of lime as asparagus prefer a slightly alkaline soil.
Make sure all this preparation is done before purchasing your crowns as they dry out very quickly. Crowns are usually available in winter and around ten to twelve crowns will give an average family a feed a week from August to October, once established.
• Make a small mound of soil at the base of the trench
• Place crown on top and spread root over the mound
• Plant crowns about 30cms apart
• Cover with soil improved with compost mix
• Water in well.
• Mulch heavily with a weed free organic mulch to form a slight mound which will aid drainage.
Most crowns are about two years old when you buy them, but need to grow for at least another two years before developing a crown thick enough to produce decent sized spears.
So even though it may be tempting to pick the first young spears that emerge in early spring it is best to let them develop into foliage that can then provide plenty of energy to increase the size of the crown.
By the third year after planting, the crowns should be producing spears that are at least pencil thickness, which can be picked. It is best to cut the spears at ground level with a sharp knife.
Once the size of the spears become thinner allow all new emerging spears to grow into foliage to replenish the crowns.
Once your Asparagus plants are established they need very little maintenance.
Due to their deep roots, crowns will produce well without supplementary irrigation and pest and diseases are minimal.
The only maintenance I do is in winter.
• As the weather becomes cooler, the foliage will begin to yellow and died back, so in early to mid-winter, I cut the foliage back to ground level.
• Then spread a layer of a nutrient rich manure (I use a mixture of blood and bone and chicken manure with either a handful of lime or wood ash) over the area around the crowns.
• I Water this in well, and then cover the area with 10cms of Lucerne hay. This not only feeds the crowns, it prevents weeds from germinating and blanches the base of the spear making it tenderer.
• I set some snail and slug deterrents around the area in early spring to prevent any damage to emerging spears.
Then sit back a wait for those succulent spears to emerge. They are such a treat after the winter veggie and my favourite ways of eating them is quickly stir fried in oil and garlic, steamed and topped with a poached egg and hollandaise or added to my favourite stir fry.
So go on get out there and prepare a spot and buy some crowns this weekend.
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