Growing asparagus at home has been a long time dream of mine but it needs a fair amount of space in a permanent home so I haven’t previously been able to justify allocating precious space for it. However, now that I have expanded my edible garden somewhat, it is such a joy to be able to harvest my own asparagus.
I grew mine from seedlings but you can buy dormant crowns in the winter or grow it from seed. It needs a nice sunny, well-drained spot with lots of organic matter like sheep pellets and compost dug into the soil. Plant them about 30 cm apart. You have to be very patient as you need to let the plants establish for a couple of years before you can harvest more than a sneaky couple of spears (I couldn’t help myself). The spears grow into feathery fronds that can be up to 2m tall. I learnt this the hard way because I proudly planted my asparagus in a prime sunny spot in my new vege garden only to discover that it was shading the plants behind it. So I then had to be patient another year after I dug up all the crowns and moved them to another spot. It is not as sunny but the plants seem to be growing just fine.
When I dug up the crowns I was absolutely amazed at the solid mass of thick roots that had established, but they seem to have transplanted without any issues. The extra year I gave them to make sure I wasn’t depleting them too much seems to have worked. The tall feathery fronds need to grow up to provide energy back to the plants so that they can push up their new spears in spring. Cut back the feathery fronds when they turn yellow in autumn.
It is so amazing to see the new spears push up out of the bare ground still in the midst of winter – they were coming up at the beginning of August for me this year (although it was a very mild winter). Fertilise your asparagus in spring and water well over summer. Keep the soil moist but not wet as asparagus crowns will rot in waterlogged conditions. Make sure to keep your asparagus bed weeded and cover with mulch (e.g. pea straw) to help keep their roots moist.
When the spears have grown up to a reasonable size (roughly 15cm), snap or cut them off at the base. Don’t pull them up or you may pull up the crown as well. My mother swears that (once you are past 2 seasons) you can keep picking the spears until they start to become very skinny and spindly. Then you need to let them develop into the ferny fronds for the rest of the season.
Even the freshest asparagus has tough ends to its stems. You can just snap these tough ends off and discard them. You can eat them raw in salads, add them to stir fries, or cook them briefly to make them wonderfully tender. The simplest servings are often best: just lightly cooked and drizzled with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, perhaps sprinkled with some sliced almonds. Or wrap them in some fresh bread for an old-fashioned asparagus roll.
I am looking forward to try a whole lot of different asparagus recipes and sharing them with you.