Asparagus is believed to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean lands and Asia Minor, and has been used as a food for thousands of years. It was depicted in the Pyramids by the Egyptians and the Romans named it the ‘King of Vegetables’. Today asparagus is grown widely throughout the world.
Asparagus does best in well drained, light, loamy soils with plenty of composted manure and other organic matter. Planting is best carried out in the cooler months from June until September. Asparagus likes a rich, well dug, loamy soil in full sun, and it is best to incorporate into the soil plenty of organic matter or a complete plant food prior to planting. Asparagus does not like acidic soils and most soils would require the addition of dolomite or lime at approximately one cup per square metre. Add more for very acidic soils or less if already limed. If soil is very heavy, the addition of gypsum would be beneficial. In areas which are poorly drained, grow asparagus in raised beds or the crowns may rot.
After the ground has been prepared, dig a trench 25cm (10”) deep and 30cm (12”) wide, making sure to loosen the soil in the bottom. Next, plant the crowns in the trench about 50cm (20”) apart and cover with 5cm (2”) of soil. Gradually fill the trench with soil as growth progresses, until the trench is filled. In cold districts initial growth will be slow. In areas with late frosts, emerging spears can be protected by a layer of hay until the risk of frost has passed.
In spring the plant will grow long and slender with soft fernlike foliage. It is important not to cut any spears in the first Spring, as during this time the crowns will develop and establish themselves. Asparagus produces both male and female plants. Female plants carry small red berries among the ferny tops and do not produce as many edible shoots as male plants. During Autumn and Winter the tops will become yellow and frosted and should be cut down and removed at this time.
The next Spring light cutting of spears can be carried out for the first month of the growing season, with normal cutting taking place each following year until late December. It is best not to harvest further after late December so that plants have sufficient time to build up their growth reserves for winter. In succeeding years, mulch the beds thickly with compost and manure in late winter. Remember patience in the early stages will help to ensure a life span of 15 years or even longer for your asparagus.
Spears can be cut either white or green. For white, form a hill over the row about 38cm (15”) high and as the spear breaks through the soil, cut into the side of the hill to remove the spear. For green, only hill about 10cm (4”) and allow the spear to grow 15cm (6”) above the soil, making sure to cut the spear just below ground level. Green asparagus is recommended.
Asparagus is most delicious when the time between cutting and serving is kept to a minimum.