The Spears of Spring

 

This is a really exciting time for us on the vegetable garden as this year we will be harvesting our first crop of asparagus. It’s taken 3 years of planning, planting and looking after but as I looked at the garden this morning the first spears have just started to emerge.

 Asparagus beds


Asparagus beds

 We planted in the spring of 2011 and allowed our plants to grow without any interference or hindrance throughout the next 2 years. This was important as it created really strong plants that from now onwards won’t mind us taking the odd spear and we can continue to harvest from these plants every spring for at least the next 20 years. Asparagus is an investment in the future and as such when planting you should give it the best possible start. We bought ours as bare root plants and before planting we added lots of manure and our homemade compost to create raised rows into which we planted our crowns. Last year we mulched with our council green waste. This created a nice sterile layer of soil, free from weed seedlings which meant our asparagus had very little competition for light, space and water, allowing them to grow to their full potential with minimal weeding for us. Over the course of this winter we fed them with manure, being careful not to cover the crowns themselves, as this could burn them but instead placing it between the plants so the nutrients worked their way into the soil, allowing the roots to take up all the goodness as it slowly broke down.

Emerging spear

Emerging spear

So the emergence of these first spears means that for the next 3- 4 weeks we will be supplying our restaurant with the freshest asparagus you can get. We are able to extend the season very slightly by having an early and a late variety.

How to harvest

A really important point about asparagus is learning how to harvest properly. A lot of work and trial and error has gone into this over the years and yes, you could just snap a spear off but your chances of doing irreparable damage to the plant is very high and when you have invested this much time into growing a strong healthy plant, why ruin it for the sake of a moments madness?

Wait until your spears are about 6” long and no thicker than a pencil, then using a sharp, clean knife cut your selected stem at ground level with a slightly angled cut. The angle on the cut allows any moisture to drain from the cut end, reducing the risks of the plant contracting any fungal diseases. Try not to cut too low as this will damage the plant rootstock and any dormant buds just below the surface. Don’t cut too high either as this can allow dieback and also means you’re wasting good asparagus.

You can invest in an asparagus knife but any good sharp knife will do the trick on a domestic scale. Below is a picture taken from a website called Sour Cherry farm, an American couple showing how to grow your own in their weekly blog.

_47755719_asparaguspick_bbc

Asparagus can only be harvested for 2-3 weeks, any longer and you will start to sap the vigour of the plant, so be careful not to stress your plants by over extending the season.

Pests to watch out for are slugs, which can be deterred by the use of organic slug pellets, but  the most significant predator of asparagus is the asparagus beetle.

Common asparagus beetle ( Crioceris asparagi )

Common asparagus beetle ( Crioceris asparagi )

Common asparagus beetle/lavae

Common asparagus beetle/lavae

A heavy infestation can severely weaken your plants over the summer months, stripping the foliage and causing weak crops the following spring. The best way of combating this pest organically is to hand pick both beetles and larvae off the plants and dispose of/destroy them. The adults emerge from the soil in May and climb the stems to lay their eggs on the fronds. The eggs are tiny black capsules from which the larvae hatch shortly after. There can be 2 generations between May and September so constant monitoring of your plants throughout the summer months is recommended.

Lou (Senior Vegetable Gardener)

8 thoughts on “The Spears of Spring

  1. Asparagus beetles look awfully like lily beetles in smart jackets. I am guessing they cause a similar amount of devastation. We are hoping to get to Sissinghurst this weekend for the first visit of the year so may perhaps get to try a few spears.

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      • Hi Helen. I had a lovely afternoon in the garden today – the weather was beautiful and there was so much to see. I was very taken with Erythronium tuolumnense and the carpets of anemone apennina everywhere. The chaenomeles were also wonderful against the old walls. Inspiring as always

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  2. Well done Lou,

    Sounds lot of hard work, but worth it in the end.

    Any chance of a small handful to try ?? i’ll be in again next Tuesday in the nursery with Emma first thing and then in visitor reception from 11am.

    Regards

    Eric

    ( Alan’s brother in law)

    ________________________________

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    • Hi All,
      To the Frustrated Gardener,
      We should be able to start harvesting from Monday the 7th of April, so unfortunately you may miss out this time but pop in and see the veg garden anyway, your always welcome and there’s lots of lovely produce being sent down to the Restaurant all the time. This week we sent down some lovely fresh herbs, winter cabbages and Chard, amongst other things. We stocked our shop up with Rhubarb just this morning so there may be some left tomorrow, although as i was leaving today there were many visitors carrying bags with the tell tale ruby sticks protruding from the top! We’ve been sending lots of forced Rhubarb down to the Restaurant in recent weeks and i believe Clemmie our Head Chef has produced a fantastic array of desserts with it, maybe this will tickle your taste buds?
      Eric,
      Good to hear from you!
      I cant guarantee it will be ready next week but pop over and see us, im sure we can arrange a taste test! It is hard work but well worth it, I wouldn’t change my job for all the tea in china! Going over to the “No Dig” method is really paying dividends, the veg garden looks the best it ever has, im so proud of all our volunteers hard work i want to shout about it from the top of the tower!
      See you soon
      Lou
      Senior Veg. Gardener

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  3. We visited Sissinghurst during our visit to the UK for the Chelsea show. Loved everything and took lots of photos to moon over. My asparagus here in the States is storing up energy for next year’s crop. I had a beetle infestation last year, but wonder of wonders, not this year. So I got to enjoy 3-weeks of glorious asparagus. I will try your idea to add manure over winter.

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    • Congratulations on your asparagus success. Home grown food always tastes so great. Really pleased you enjoyed your visit to Sissinghurst. The roses were very early this year and quite a few were out during Chelsea week- hope you enjoyed your early preview of them. Helen (gardener)

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