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TIPS TOP OF THE CROPS; Growing gourmet asparagus requires patience, but the delicious reward is worth all the effort.

sparagus has been cultivated for thousands of years, starting with the Egyptians and the Romans.

Although it's a native of the British Isles, it has a gourmet reputation as a delicacy and for being expensive.

It requires patience at the beginning as you won't be cropping for two to three years while the plant establishes itself.

But while that might seem like a long time, these plants can keep giving their precious crop for up to 20 years, so your time and effort will be well-rewarded. They're packed with vitamins and antioxidants, so are good for you, too.

long heir our ed. nd o. et So here's all you need to know to get you growing.

You will be planting one-year-old dormant plants known as crowns - they look a bit like bulbs with long tails, which are the roots. Ideally, they like to be planted in well-drained soil in a sunny position.

If your soil is very heavy, you're probably better off planting in raised beds. They're in for the long haul, so be sure about your decision as they won't thank you for moving them around.

It's also very important to have the area as weed-free as possible before planting so you are not poking around, trying to weed and disturbing the plant as their roots are quite shallow.

weed-free are not p disturb quite Dig and pla com gtw Dig a trench about eight inches deep and place well-rotted manure or garden compost at the base. Add some general fertiliser to this and then a two-inch layer of soil.

Next, create a small ridge running along the centre of your trench about alo four inches high. You plant the crown on top of the ridge, buds pointing to the sky and then spread out the roots so they drape down either side. Leave at least 12-18 inches between each crown.

Now cover with soil so the buds of the crown are just peeping out. Water in and dress with a good mulch, which will keep the moisture in and prevent them from drying out.

During the growing season, you will have lovely, ferny foliage - admire it, but don't touch. Let it all die down naturally in autumn to gain the maximum amount of energy back into the crown.

When it is fully died down, you can chop down the stems to ground level. The two following springs you will be feeding the plant again and the third spring (we are talking about 2017 now!) you should have a healthy crop of asparagus to harvest.

They don't like drying out, so remember to water during dry spells. Their tips can also be damaged by frost, so keep a bit of horticultural fleece handy to throw over them when frost is forecast. Their main pests are slugs, snails and the asparagus beetle. Vigilance here is key - remove any unwanted visitors by hand. When you cut down the stems in winter, remove them as otherwise they provide great cover for overwintering beetles. Tomato plants are a good companion plant for asparagus as the tomato is said to be beneficial in repelling this beetle.

So what varieties should you try? The general rule of thumb is that male varieties produce the most and the best spears.

The RHS has awarded Connover's Colossal, Gijnlim and Backlim varieties its AGM seal of approval - all of these are good yielders.

White asparagus enjoyed on the continent for its more delicate flavour and tender texture is not a variety but a method of production whereby the soil is earthed up on the spears as they grow so there is a lack of chlorophyll - hence the pale, white flesh. For attractive purple spears, look out for Pacific Purple, a New Zealand variety that is tender and sweet.

Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they are good for you, too

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 8, 2014
Words:645
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