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I've started an asparagus bed

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 07:30 UK time, Sunday, 3 April 2011

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.

asparagus

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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks Alys, that's really helpful advice - I am inspired to get a bit of my allotment ready for asparagus. Good luck with your investment for the future.

  • Comment number 2.

    Isn't there a word 'sprue' for the spindly spears which are often used for soup?

  • Comment number 3.

    the thin spears, also known as grass aparagus, or the one I use spaghetti asparagus.Good luck with yours Alys

  • Comment number 4.

    A well-established asparagus bed is almost magical - those little spears poking through the soil, just asking to be eaten.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Alys
    I don't know whether I am reading too much between the lines - but you say this is the first spring you haven't had a parcel of asparagus from your mum. From this I read that she is no longer with us - if true, my condolences. You also say your other half says three years is too long to wait for asparagus to grow - and that he may no longer be with us. Again, I don't know if I am intruding - but all I can say is prosaically the future is uncertain for all of us economically and every which way. My very best wishes to you and your other half, had hoped to see you on Gardener's World, but sounds like you have other things on your mind. My hopes and prayers are with you both. Thank you for your blog, it is a lovely way to communicate and you inspire me daily and convince me that gardening is not just for middle aged men with beards!!!! Take care of yourself, as it is the only way you can take care of others. Love, Teresa.

  • Comment number 6.

    Your reading to much between the lines Teresa!!?? What I've seen of Alys I love and put into practice as best I can.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for these lovely blogs Alys. I hope all is well with you, I admire your positivity. Whenever your down, just think there is always a nice suprise around the corner; there to make the world a nicer place.

    I'm a young gardner, and have just started university. In between all the sleep, lectures and nights out I miss my garden, and your beautifull blogs remind me of why I love it so much. This has made me want to grow Asparagus; sadly my vegetable plot is now growing over as I haven't been able to convince my family to take it on. Maybe for the future...

  • Comment number 8.

    I wish I could find ONLY edible things for the garden. I looked for edible Lupin, of which the seeds are edible but ended up with non edible but pretty ones, which is not the answer to my dietary problems! Asparagus certainly is!

  • Comment number 9.

    tonight we had sage fritters on top of our cod and mushroom, I would never have thought of such a thing if I hadn't read your book many thanks, tomorrow I'm cooking dandelion fritters for my grandchildren!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Alys, I've just read your asparagus page and, forgive me if I've misunderstood, it looks like there's sadness in your life at the moment for which I sympathise. I applaud your reaching out to a positive future with the asparagus bed. Growing things, a garden, they're what keep us grounded and centred, a part of the cycle of life and of renewal. Keep blogging, write what you want to write - a blog is not a scientific journal and that's why readers (and writers too?) like them. Take care of yourself.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nice article Alys, I recently planted an asparagus bed and after reading this I'm pleased to report that I've done it right. There are some thin shoots reaching for the sky already. Be sure to keep us informed as to how your asparagus grows. It's always good to be able to compare notes.

  • Comment number 12.

    there used to be a nice bed at the Manoir near the tunnels [if you ever go]. not a big fan of 'asparrowgrass' myself.

  • Comment number 13.

    Good luck with the asparagus, Alys. I grow mine in one of five large raised beds and the extraordinary thing is that I don't need to protect them from any of the many predators which would ruin my other crops. Birds, foxes, rats, mice, caterpillars and even hordes of rabbits just don't seem to like them. So, with hopefully many years of crops to come from the original crowns, they are the least of my worries and the greatest of my pleasures.

 

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