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, and sit the crowns on the ridge 30-45cm (12-18in) apart. Mix the soil with rotted manure when backfilling, ensuring that the tips of the crowns are just showing above the surface of the soil. Water well and keep the 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 them 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*.

Pick asparagus when it's young and thin. As it gets older its becomes tougher and more sinewy. In warm weather asparagus can grow 4 to 5 inches per day.

In the autumn or early winter, cut back any remaining spears and yellowing fronds of old plants to a couple of cm of the soil surface

*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 runoff 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 Hills.

The fronds do look good when added to a floral arrangement.

Culinary use:

Early green asparagus shoots, called sprue, are thin, fully tender and can be picked and eaten.

Asparagus spears are at their best to eat as soon as possible after harvesting. After getting 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 (although these woody parts can still be used to flavour soup and stock), you could just trim the stem where it changes colour from white to green.

If you can't use the stems straight away, put them into a glass of water in the fridge, changing the water daily. They can also be blanched and frozen for up to 3 months.

The asparagus can be enjoyed raw or briefly cooked through steaming, boiling, pan-frying with a little oil or butter, or grilling on the barbecue.

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 sow now:

Indoor or in a heated greenhouse




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