Allotment crops – asparagus?

I’m starting to wonder if we’re grown up enough to grow asparagus. Okay, we’re in our forties, so if we’re not grown up enough now, we never will be, but it’s such a luxurious, complicated crop, isn’t it?

Well the Royal Horticultural Society begs to differ. Their website says:

Asparagus can be raised from seed or young dormant plants - crowns - can be purchased. Sow seeds of an all-male F1 hybrid singly into modules in February and transplant in early June. Most gardeners choose one-year-old crowns, planting in March or April.

Right, so we’re going to buy crowns, I’ve got enough seed trays on my hands as it is. Then what?

Fork over the prepared area and dig a trench 30cm (12in) wide and 20cm (8in) deep. Work in well-rotted manure in the bottom, cover with 5cm (2in) of the excavated soil and make a 10cm-high (4in) ridge down the centre of the trench. Place the crowns on top, spacing them 30-45cm (12-18in) apart (right). Leave 45cm (18in) between rows and stagger the plants. Spread the roots evenly and fill in the trench, leaving the bud tips just visible. Water in and mulch with 5cm (2in) of well-rotted manure.

Okay, we can do that – in fact we have a trench already dug to much these proportions.

Asparagus beds must be kept weed free - best done by hand as the shallow roots are easily damaged by hoeing. Mulching discourages weeds and retains moisture. Apply a general fertiliser in early spring and repeat once harvesting has finished.

Oh dear, I knew hand weeding would appear somewhere – and as the male of the species is six foot two, I know which of us will be deputised to stoop over the asparagus trench as being ‘closer to the ground’.

To avoid top-growth breaking off in wind and damaging the crown, use canes and twine either side of the row for support. Remove any female plants (those bearing orange-red berries) and any seedlings.

Hmm, that sounds a bit more complicated – I can spot the females but I’m never good at pulling up baby plants …

To harvest, cut individual spears with a sharp knife 2.5cm (1in) below the soil when they are no more than 18cm (7in) tall. In warm weather, harvest every two to three days for best quality spears. Do not harvest for the first two years. In the third year, pick from mid-April for six weeks, and in subsequent years for eight weeks.

Ah, so if we do it now, we don’t get to eat it until 2011? Better get cracking then ….

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, February 14, 2008

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