Asparagus - Asparagus officinalis
Asparagus prefer a sheltered, sunny position in well-drained soil. Asparagus is a good source of fibre (inulin - a prebiotic), vitamin C (with strengthens the walls of small blood vessels, which may reduce broken veins), smaller amounts of vitamins E and B and iron as well as rutin (an antioxidant which might help as an anti-inflammatory) and glutathione, an antioxidant that helps the liver clear out toxins.
Prepare a new asparagus bed in winter. Double digging and adding well-rotted manure to create an open and well fertilised bed.
Plant new year-old crown stock in early March through to mid-April in a trench 12in wide by 6in deep. Create a slightly raised ridge down the middle of the trench, sit the crowns on the ridge 12-18in apart. Mix soil with with rotted manure when back filling, ensuring that the tips of the crowns are just showing above the surface of the soil. Water well and keep soil moist.
Don’t harvest for the first year after planting and only a couple of times in the second year. This will allow the plants to get really well established, giving a bigger crop. In the third and subsequent years harvest from the last week of April to the last harvest by late June*.
Cut back spears and yellowing fronds to a couple of cms of the soil surface, of old plants in the autumn or early winter.
*There's an old garden saying 'Don't pick asparagus after Ascot' referring to Royal Ascot that takes place in the 3rd week of June. Asparagus needs to set seed in June, and then build up its food store in the crown ready for next year. The fronds do look good when added to a floral arrangement.
It's often suggested in older guides to add salt to asparagus beds in the autumn. This was to control weeds. Whilst asparagus will tolerate the salt, adding it will ruin the soil structure and any run off will also kill nearby plants.
Suggested sowing time:
(Key: sow indoors, sow outside, sow outside under cover.)
After harvesting the spears and taking them into the kitchen, hold the bottom of each spear between your thumb and forefinger, with the other hand, bend the stalk until it snaps, this should break off any woodiness in the stem.
'Purple Pacific' - a purple asparagus variety.
Ariane - mid-season variety, with good number of spears and purple tips.
Millennium - a late-season variety.
Pacific 2000 - an early variety.
Seeds to plant now:
Indoors or in a heated greenhouse
Outside under cover