I've started an asparagus bed
I’ve started an asparagus bed. The crowns were ludicrously cheap and from the supermarket. £2.50 for 5 so I splashed out on ten. They are not the largest crowns I’ve ever seen, but they are plump and alive, which is what counts.
I waved them under H’s nose. ‘Look asparagus, so cheap!’ He peered, ‘when do you get to eat it?’, “Oh you know not for another three years or so” I replied. He looked unimpressed; ‘you’ll be eating those ones alone then’. And there it is, our stark reality, knotted between the spidery roots of the asparagus - a bit of gamble, an uncertain future, but cheap at £2.50.
Asparagus is a maritime plant and a halophyte in that it is salt-tolerant. Traditionally you used to add a little salt to the soil to suppress weeds, but the effect of this meant that nothing else could be grown in the soil apart for asparagus for years to come, so we gave up on that one.
There are many nuances to growing asparagus but the most important one is that it hates competition. It needs very fertile ground to do well and nobody near it to bother its ways. You have to weed ruthlessly for the first two or three years. Pile it high with good rotted organic matter and of course be patient until you can make those first few magic cuts. The funny instruction crudely translated from German for my crowns told me in year two I was permitted one spear from each plant and two spears in the next year. Patience indeed.
I have learnt the hard way that you cannot dot asparagus through a bed in hope that it may behave a little like a grass. It just sulks about having neighbours and disappears. So another of its demands is that it has to have its own bed. Asparagus beds are usually mounded up to add drainage and keep the soil warm (a trick to getting early pickings). It’s a good idea to soak the crowns if they look a little wrinkled. It’s also textbook to spread the roots either side of the mound so that the growing point is on top of the mound.
In reality many of the crowns will not spread their legs so to speak and if you attempt to you’ll break off precious roots. IF this is the case with yours just try and get the growth point sit up right so that any moisture will drain away. Saying all this it’s quite possible for them to dry out completely (I’ve killed a few this way) so once you see good sign of growth, add a thin layer of organic matter to keep the moisture in. Every year you add more compost and organic matter until you’ve built up that distinctive mound that you see in older kitchen gardens.
I grew up in a garden with ancient asparagus beds. When the asparagus had run to seed, waving its feathery fronds about, you could get lost between the beds they were that thick. My mother would spend hours on her hands and knees weeding these beds. She stands by this as the success with asparagus, keep the competition down in the first couple of years and you’re away.
She’d also horrified unwitting urban visitors by squishing the bright red asparagus beetle between her fingers (it makes quite a pop) whilst continuing any ongoing conversation without a bat of an eyelid. But then we’ve always said that my mother is ‘some creatures great and small’.
Every season we would gorge on asparagus, dripping in butter, swimming through French dressing, dip into runny eggs, in pasta and on the side until someone would declare that they were sick of the asparagus and shortly afterwards the season was over.
Once I’d flown, I’d get packages of spears. They’d feel damp and dense, these packages, wrapped in kitchen and raffia twine, were bundled into plastic bags to keep their freshness.
Last spring was the first time I missed my childhood home, no package and no foresight on my part to plant my own. So this year when I planted, I did so as an act of defiance to our future. Things may be uncertain, but you never know? Already there are signs of life - those first tender spikes are appearing. It is, perhaps, a little bit of leap to put so much hope in a few plants, but they seem optimistic. So we’ll both set root here and see what happens.