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Growing Asparagus

Find out how to grow your own asparagus

Growing Asparagus

grow your own | vegetables

When choosing a fruit or vegetable to grow in your own garden or allotment it is well worth remembering that the best things to grow are those which are expensive to buy in the shops and delicious to eat as fresh as possible. Asparagus is therefore an excellent crop to consider - particularly as it grows better in the UK than anywhere else in the world.


Grow your own asparagus

Asparagus was first cultivated by the Greeks with its roots used medicinally to alleviate urinary, kidney, and liver problems. Although the whole plant is edible it is now only the asparagus spears (the stalks of the plant) which are eaten. Asparagus officinalis is a hardy perennial - meaning that it will crop year after year and will survive through the winter.

Asparagus can be sown from seed, taking three years to crop the first time, or a one year old asparagus crown (the part of the plant which lies under the ground between the spears above and the roots below) can be planted and will crop within two years.

Asparagus crown, spears, and roots shown in a schematic

Grow Asparagus

A typical asparagus plant will produce at least 20-30 spears every year for twenty years as long as a little care is given to choosing a good planting location, and the asparagus bed is kept relatively weed free.

Asparagus should be planted in a location bathed under full sunshine in well drained clay-free soil, ideally with a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. Note that the spears are vulnerable to late frost damage and may need fleece to protect them depending on where you live. If grown in partial shades the crop yield will be much lower.

Asparagus seeds and crowns should be planted in mid- to late-April in soil which has been dug over to a spade's depth the previous autumn. When digging, add sand to heavier soils to improve drainage, and some compost to improve the quality of the soil if necessary. Ensure all weeds and their roots are removed. Asparagus should be planted approximately 18 inches apart and with the seeds or the top of the crowns covered with 3 inches of well sifted soil (i.e. broken up and all stones removed).

(Click here to buy asparagus seeds or asparagus crowns)

Asparagus foliage left to grow

For the first 2-3 years, you must not harvest any spears or the plant will be weakened. Instead allow the spears/stalks to grow freely until they are covered in ferny foliage (as pictured above). The leaves collect energy from the sun which increases the size and strength of the crown and root system under the ground. In the autumn when the foliage turns brown, cut it all down to a couple of inches above ground level.

Newly planted crowns should be kept damp during extended periods of dry weather, and the asparagus patch should be hand-weeded regularly. Do not use a hoe to weed since asparagus have shallow roots which can easily be damaged.

Harvesting Asparagus

Having waited patiently, the asparagus can finally be harvested when it has completed three years of growth. Cut the spears when they are around 5-6 inches tall using a sharp knife an inch below the surface of the soil. The spears grow very quickly, so the spears will need harvesting every couple of days for 6-8 weeks until around mid-June. After that the remaining spears should be left so that foliage can grow and the plant can store energy ready for next years crop. Adding general fertiliser at this time will help this process.

Note that young asparagus spears are particularly attractive to slugs. See our article Fighting Slugs for advice.

Keeping Asparagus Fresh

Eat asparagus as soon as possible after harvesting for the best flavour since the flavour deteriorates rapidly after harvesting as the moisture it holds is lost. To keep asparagus for a few days, cut off half an inch from the end of each spear and then stand the spears (cut side down) in two inches of cold water in a plastic container and store them in the fridge. If you want to keep asparagus longer (up to 12 months), it is better to wash, cut, blanch, and then freeze the spears.

Article Published: 12:55, 18th May 2010

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