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 (which 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 30-45cm (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 (traditionally the English asparagus season starts on St. George's Day - April 23rd) 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.
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.
Asparagus bearing the Vale of Evesham name, has since 2017, been granted EU protected food name status, and must be grown and prepared in a specific area around the Malvern Hill.
The fronds do look good when added to a floral arrangement.
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. To reduce the amount thrown away, you could just trim the stem where it changes colour from white to green.
English asparagus is in season in supermarkets from the end of March.
According to Debrett's "asparagus spears should be picked up and eaten with the left hand and never with a knife and fork."
Cultivars and varieties:
Asparagus officinalis 'Ariane' - mid-season variety, with good number of spears and purple tips.
Asparagus officinalis 'Blacklim' - mid to late season variety.
Asparagus officinalis 'Connovers Colossal'
Asparagus officinalis 'Jersey Giant'
Asparagus officinalis 'Millennium' - a late-season variety.
Asparagus officinalis 'Pacific 2000' - an early variety.
Asparagus officinalis 'Purple Pacific' - a purple asparagus variety.
Seeds to plant now:
Indoor or in a heated greenhouse
Bell Pepper, pepper
Floss flower, Ageratum
Aubretia, Rock cress, Aubrieta, Aubrietia
Beetroot, Garden beet
Ornamental winter kale
Spinach, Summer spinach
Outside under cover