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.
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.
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.
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.
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)