Asparagus and rhubarb are two long-lived plants you can grow from crowns planted in winter.
The crown is a section of the plant with roots attached. Crowns are more expensive than seed but offer a shorter wait till harvest.
Both these plants do best with an entire garden bed to themselves.
Asparagus is generous, but you must be patient. Crowns you plant this month can be harvested in spring 2013, when you’ll be picking about a dozen spears every few days through September and October.
Varieties include long green ‘Mary Washington’, purple-speared ‘Purple’, and, for lovers of thick spears, ‘Fat Bastard’, an F1 male hybrid available from Diggers.
Plant crowns about 40cm apart, on top of a little mound formed at the bottom of a trench. Backfill with soil then water well. Spears will pop up in spring, and become 1m long fronds. These will yellow in autumn and should be pruned to the round in winter. Fertilise in winter with well-rotted cow manure and heavy mulch.
Female plants will produce red berries throughout the growing season. Male plants are the best croppers: you can spot them at germination time as they have thicker stems.
Photo - Linda Ross
We planted out mailorder rhubarb last winter and have been dining on stems for the last six months. Plants raised from seed, on the other hand, usually take three years before they're ready for harvesting. Eight plants of rhubarb will be enough for a family of four. In warmer regions choose ‘Ever Red’ and ‘Sydney Crimson’, which have particularly red stems. ‘Wandin Giant’ originates from the hills of Melbourne and has thick stems. ‘Silvan Giant’ produces stems throughout the year.
Choose a position with ample moisture and plenty of fertiliser. Plant the crowns 75 cm to 1 metre apart, with the growing point at or just below the soil surface. Water then mulch with straw. At the end of the first growing season, mulch with well-rotted cow manure. Don't let the plants dry out in summer.
To harvest pull stems gently from the crown, always leaving some stems on the plant. To avoid rhubarb running to seed, don’t water overhead and if flowers do appear, remove them. Every four or five years dig the plant up and divide the crowns for replanting.
Photo - Linda Ross
Prepare the ground as you would for flowers: with plenty of cow manure, compost, blood and bone and potash mixed in through the existing soil. If you have clay soil create raised beds to improve the drainage and if you have sandy soil add a lot of organic matter so that it doesn't dry out too quickly in summer.
Where to find
Our favourite mail order companies such as Diggers, Eden and Greenpatch Organic or try for Mr Fothergill from your local nursery.