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Home-grown asparagus is easy, but it’s not quick. You’ll need to wait three years from planting before you can harvest a bunch of tender green spears, but the wait will have been worth it, and the asparagus patch will keep on giving for decades. Linda Ross shares her growing tips.
Asparagus is planted as ‘crowns’, which are root systems of fleshy rhizomes. It will grow in any backyard in Australia as long as you find an open, sheltered spot with good drainage (the feeder roots can grow to a depth of 1.5-2 metres so will rot in boggy positions). Make it a big spot. You can’t squeeze asparagus in between other vegetables – you’ll need a good 1m x 1m dedicated bed.
Plant asparagus crowns in winter or early spring. Dig a complete fertiliser into the soil a few weeks before planting. To plant, dig a trench 30cm wide x 20cm deep. In the bottom make a 10cm mound and place the crowns on top, spreading the roots either side, then cover with 5cm of soil. Plant the next crown 40cm down the trench. As the stems grow, gradually cover them with soil. By autumn the trench will be filled with soil. Pull out weeds rather than using a herbicide. Water during dry weather.
In May the ferny growth of the asparagus will start to yellow as the plant nears its winter dormancy. Cut at 7cm above the ground and lay the cuttings as a mulch over the bed. Add a layer of well-rotted manure and straw to nourish the crowns.
First, wait three years to allow the crowns to mature, then use a sharp knife to cut the spears on an angle under the surface of the soil. We harvest spears that are thicker than a pencil, and about 20 cm high. We leave the skinny ones to develop and feed the crown. Leave at least one spear uncut and do not harvest after midsummer or you will get thin spears the following year. The harvest lasts for six weeks the first year and eight weeks every year after that.
Mary Washington –the most widely grown variety with long green stems and a great flavour.
Fat Bastard – a thick fat stem, available from Diggers Club
Purple – spear is tinged with purple and is sweeter than green asparagus.
- Asparagus plants are male and female. The male plants produce the most spears, so remove the female plants, identified by the red berries they produce.
- White asparagus is the same is green, but is grown under dark plastic to exclude sunlight. White asparagus is sweet and tender, and much prized in Europe.
- To store asparagus either stand the fresh spears upright in a container with 1cm of water in the bottom, or wrap the spears in a clean damp tea towel, then store in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the fridge.